Gender and Ritual in Iran



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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Torab, Azam. Performing Islam : Gender and Ritual in Iran / by Azam Torab. p. cm. — (Women and gender, the Middle East and the Islamic world ; v. 4) ISBN-13: 978-90-04-15295-3 ISBN-10: 90-04-15295-4 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Muslim women—Iran—Social conditions. 2. Women in Islam—Iran. 3. Women—Iran—Social conditions. I. Title. HQ1735.2.T67 2006 305.48’6970955—dc22 2006049202

ISSN 1570-7628 ISBN-13: 978 90 04 15295 3 ISBN-10: 90 04 15295 4

© Copyright 2007 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Hotei Publishing, IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Brill provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910 Danvers, MA 01923, USA. Fees are subject to change. printed in the netherlands

To my father Hassan Torab 1923–1979


........... Chapter One Chapter Two Blurring Boundaries ........................................................... Introduction . Notes on Language ..................... References ................................ Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight The Morality of Self-Interested Exchange .................... 251 261 281 286 ........................................................................................................................................................................ Women’s Caring Labour .............................................................................. 242 Glossary ....................... 223 Conclusion ............................................... ix xiii xv xvi 1 31 68 92 Chapter Three A Well-Adjusted Misfit .................................................................................................................................................................... Subject Index ...................... 169 Reversal and Licence .................................................................................... 194 The Head and Heart Tangle ................... Author Index ...................................................................................CONTENTS Preface .................................... 115 Rites of Masculinity ........................................................... 139 Girls’ ‘Initiation’ Ritual ............................................................................. Calendars ......... Acknowledgements ...................


PREFACE The objective of this book is to provide an account of the diversity of ritual activity and their significance for gender constructions in Iran today. The post-revolutionary era has been extraordinarily complex with regard to gender politics. ideas and beliefs were being formed or projected through ritual activities at the time of my research in the early 1990’s. Significantly. as is the case about the political situation more generally. with controversial and contradictory trends mapped in an increasing body of literature. although I also look at men’s rituals in one of the chapters as a means of shedding further light on women’s very rich ceremonial life. symbols and discourses are contested. My focus is on rituals because these are powerful forums where ideas develop. this book is neither a conventional anthropological community-focused study. My aim is to understand how gender views. some clergymen. These are the main focus of my study. although it does bear elements of both. religious thinkers and Islamist women were among the key players in these debates. which took place in 1992–93. or where rules. in the early years after the Iranian revolution of 1978–79. nor intended as a sociological or historical account. I have tried to capture the sense of the period in which I conducted the fieldwork. economic and political instability that characterized the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. But women’s ritual activities have not had the attention they deserve. feature films and documentaries. Much has been written on the social and political functions of men’s public street processions and passion plays during the month of Muharram. But my main objective in studying ritual performances is to develop an understanding of how gender is constructed and understood. in particular in the context of the social. Gender ideas are undergoing rapid change. Opinions about these developments by observers and writers both within Iran and outside the country are diverse and fragmented. Rituals flourish in periods of rapid change and in Iran they have always been part of the political process. This was a particularly important time in respect of the resurgence of feminist debates within the Islamic Republic. . In this sense.

‘Feminism’ can mean a concern with ‘women’s subordination’ or ‘male dominance’. while being also an . but for their interpretations and analyses. although I acknowledge that even ethnographic ‘description’ is not free from theory. or gender relations or the ways in which social. roles. I am not concerned with the issues and debates around feminism or the much debated ‘Islamic feminism’ as such. Each chapter relates to a particular ritual. thereby shaping women’s and also men’s roles and status. for which I have chosen ritual performances. I must acknowledge here the feminist or feminist-inspired scholarship on Iran nonetheless. which have a particularly rich symbolic content. opportunities and choices. but these issues are neither the aim nor the analytical framework for this book. The subject index. It is to dislodge the very categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in order to understand how they come to assume the fixity that they do by a study of ritual activity. my principal concern is perhaps more radical (at least in the context of Iranian scholarship). However. forms an additional guide to the book’s theoretical focus. The studies that focus on women or gender are mainly concerned with women’s status. I explore how gender ‘difference’ is formed through specific actions. I want to underline that alternative readings are possible. for providing the very grounds and the necessary material that make my study possible in the first place. I believe the scholarship relating to Iran has not yet taken this approach. Rather. or the more recent broader definitions that include a general concern with increasing women’s rights. political and historical processes shape gender discourses. But for inspiration. My fieldwork context and experience as both an Iranian (or ‘insider’) doing fieldwork at ‘home’. My concern is not with ‘women’ or ‘men’ or gender roles or relations as such. I certainly adhere to this latter objective for women (but also for men who are oppressed) wherever they may be. The approach and style of presentation I have adopted in general is to provide a straightforward account of the ritual proceedings as taken directly out of my field notes written at the time (with subsequent editing as required) followed by my comments and analysis.x preface These developments form an important context for this book. I am in particular indebted to a few works to which I have made extensive reference in the book. The aim is to differentiate between my observations and my analysis. not just for the material. which is fairly extensive.

but there is much excellent literature on this topic to which I have referred. I should add that the manuscript for this book was completed in the beginning of 2004. . is touched on briefly at the end of the introduction. having spent most of my life from my formative years on abroad.preface xi ‘outsider’. Finally. although I have since made some appropriate alterations and included references of relevant literature that appeared after that date.


From 1999 to 2004 I held a Research Fellowship at Clare Hall in Cambridge. These often challenging occasions helped formulate and shape my ideas. I am greatly indebted to Nancy Lindisfarne (formerly Tapper) and Richard Tapper who co-supervised my dissertation. As an undergraduate at the Department of Ethnology at the University of Basle. for friendship. who first introduced me to ethnology. I also enjoyed many useful conversations and discussions with Gabriele vom Bruck. Nancy Lindisfarne has been a great inspiration for developing my understanding and ideas on gender. and Brigitta HauserSchäublin and Florence Weiss who first introduced me to gender studies. workshops and conferences across the UK and on the Continent. Their suggestions and comments have made this a better book. which helped clarify my ideas. I have benefited greatly from her research and from discussions with her. I thank both for drawing my attention to material I might have missed and for reading parts of this book at various stages. I want to thank them for their generous guidance. support and intellectual enthusiasm as well as generous hospitality over the years. I was given the opportunity to teach and present papers related to this book in the Department of Anthropology in Cambridge and at SOAS in London. My profound gratitude goes to my mentors and teachers in Basel and London. which allowed me to complete the book in a most stimulating and congenial environment. . While I was writing my book I also had the opportunity to present papers based on this research at seminars. both for their perceptive comments on my dissertation and support since. 2002. Most abundant thanks to Ziba Mir-Hosseini. I also thank Judith Okely and Sami Zubaida. To Richard Tapper I owe very special thanks for his continued support and confidence in my work.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This book took shape with thanks to many people to whom I am deeply indebted. Parts of Chapter 1 and Chapter 4 are published in different versions (Torab 1996. out of which this book grew. I was taught by Meinhard Schuster. I gratefully acknowledge a Research Associateship with School of Oriental African Studies (SOAS) which began in 1998. 2005).

In the beginning of my fieldwork. She sadly died just before going to press. Anna Laerke and in particular Susan Wright. Jaber ‘Anassori allowed me to attend some of his lectures on ‘popular culture’ ( farhang-e 'ammeh) at the Faculty of Arts in Tehran University. My most profound debt is to Mrs Omid and her daughter Mariam for their invaluable support during my fieldwork. I want to thank everyone in Tehran who helped me define the focus of my research. David Halford. . I cannot adequately put into words the meaning for me of her friendship. Khadijeh Kheradpir (Kay as she liked to be called) I have a debt that I can never repay. My special thanks to Dale Eickelman for taking an interest in my work at an early stage and encouraging me to go to press with my research. but also to all the other women who are the subjects of this book. a longstanding friend. They made the research for this book not only possible but also enjoyable. I owe a unique debt to my husband Mohammad Hossein Kheradpir (Kourosh) for his care. warmth and kindness. and Elizabeth Loving. I thank them for their friendship. Mary Hegland. To Tanya Harrod. and for giving me the peace of mind to carry this project through. I am deeply grateful for generously giving her time and reading many drafts. Her intimate knowledge of the city and its people brought me into contact with the women’s interlocking ritual circles. a most loyal friend of many years. kept up my spirits with plans and outings throughout the gestation of the book. whom I also thank for support and confidence. as well as the very final manuscript with a perceptive eye and precision. which familiarised me with research in Iran. I would like to express special appreciation to Margot Badran for editorial input as series editor at Brill and Trudy Kamperveen for making it possible to get to press despite unforeseeable delays. affection and constant encouragement. They tolerated me generously in their midst with good humour.xiv acknowledgments Others who have read earlier papers related to this research and from whose critical comments I have benefited in the early stages of writing include: Susan Drucker-Brown. To my late sister-inlaw.

is to convey how the words are spoken and pronounced by the subjects of this study. Reza. rowzeh. bid'a. rawda. the standard Arabic transliteration is retained but without diacritics. Examples are barakat. Diacritical marks are omitted. Finally. but they are often omitted in day to day speech to indicate closeness not disrespect. They may sound different in Arabic. wodu. . vozu. Many Arabic words are used in Persian. niyyat. many honorific titles such as Hazrat (Excellency) are used in written Persian. such as fuqaha and faqih. Similarly. Some terms of Arabic origin. but they are often Persianized. My concern. Ayatollah. niyya. 'elm. except for 'ayn (') and hamzeh ("). but not in Persian. ‘t’ for t … and ‘z’ for N ¿ „ z. However. which correspond to the Arabic baraka. and thus have a different transliteration. Persian (Indo European language) and Arabic (Semitic language) both use the Arabic alphabet. and Ramadan. as is direct speech. as much as possible. and I follow local usage. Rida. For the other similar sounding Persian letters I use ‘s’ for ◊ s -.NOTES ON LANGUAGE The majority of my transcriptions and translations from Persian (Farsi) to English are from spoken rather than written Persian. My translation and usage of all Arabic derived loan words corresponds to the way they are understood and pronounced in everyday spoken Persian. bed'at. although in Persian there is virtually no difference in sound between them. hajj. whenever possible I have used the familiar English forms of Persian and Arabic. the alphabets gh (q ‘gheyn’) and q (c ‘qaf ’) sound the same in Iran (except notably in Yazd). 'ilm. All non-English terms are in italics. They may also have a slightly different meaning to the Arabic. such as chador. For that reason my transcriptions are phonetic. This means they are often pronounced differently.

Aban. It begins on 21 March. Both the civil and the Islamic calendars date from the year of the Prophet Muhammad’s emigration (hejrat) from Mecca to Medina in the month of Muharram ad 622. the Persian New Year ('eyd-e nowruz). It marks significant events in the Islamic traditions and history. One is Gregorian (ad or ce). The months are Farfardin. . The “lunar” year has 354 to 355 days. Tir. The research for this book was conducted in ad 1992–1993 or 1371–1372 AHS (Anno Hejri Shamsi ) and 1413–1414 AHQ (Anno Hejri Qamari). Dey. Esfand. ten to eleven days shorter than the “solar” year. The Qamari (“lunar”) calendar is the Islamic calendar. The Shamsi (“solar”) calendar is the official Iranian civil calendar. Azar. Khordad. Bahman. Mehr. Shahrivar. Ordibehesht.CALENDARS Iranian diaries display three calendars. Mordad.

the 3rd Imam 'Ashura. ad 680) Arba'eyn. the 8th Imam (d. ad 632) Death of Imam Reza.calendars Significant dates on the Shi'a Islamic “lunar” calendar in Iran Muharram Safar 9 10 20 28 29 9 17 Rabi'al-Thani Jamadi al-Awwal Jamadi al-Thani 13 xvii Rabi'al-Awwal Tasu'a. ad 868) 19 Wounding of Imam 'Ali 18–21 Night vigils for al-Qadr (first ‘revelations’ of the Qur"an) 21 Death of Imam 'Ali (d. ad 632) 3 Death of Fatemeh (according to some sources) (d. ad 818) Death of the Sunni Caliph 'Omar (d. 40th following Husseyn’s death Death of the Prophet (d. ad 632) 20 Birth of Fatemeh (“Woman’s day” in the Islamic Republic) 13 Birth of Imam 'Ali. the beginning of the Prophet’s mission 15 Birth of the ‘Hidden’ 12th Imam. ad 661) 1 'Eyd-e fetr 25 Death of Imam Ja'far-e Sadeq. Imam Husseyn’s martyrdom (d. the 6th Imam (d. ad 644) (not marked on formal calendars) Birth of the Prophet Muhammad (ad 570) (12th with Sunni) Rajab Sha'ban Ramadan Shawwal Dhi al-Qa'da Dhi-al-Hajja Death of Fatemeh (according to some sources) (d. ad 765) 11 Birth of Imam Reza 10 'Eyd-e Qorban (feast of sacrifice) 18 'Eyd-e Ghadir-e Khumm (the Prophet designates 'Ali as his successor ad 632) . the Mahdi (b. the first Shi'a Imam 27 Mab'as. eve of Imam Husseyn’s martyrdom.


exactly. as well as fulfilment for personal piety. gender ideologies can be at the same time projected and renewed. a social stratum that makes up a large proportion of the city’s population. not simply of meaning or culture. It is based on anthropological fieldwork conducted between 1992 and 1993 among circles of devout women and men in the lower middle class quarters of south Tehran. Each chapter focuses on a particular ceremony—conventionally called ‘ritual’ by anthropologists—held to mark religious anniversaries and life-course events. The debate in the academic literature as to how the word “ritual” should be used is extensive. Humphrey & Laidlaw (1994: 64–87) and Lewis (1980). is gender difference produced. Humphrey & Laidlaw (1994) define ritual as a mode of (possibly any) action that is ritualized rather than as a distinct class of event. The question that is pursued is how. secured and performed in Iran today through ritual activity. while Goody (1977: 25–35) prefers to do away with the word ritual altogether. Bell (1992). political and cultural processes.1 These ritual activities are rich in scope and symbolism. beliefs and mechanisms that underpin gender constructions at the level of everyday practice in the complex society that is Iran today. in particular the values. such as coming of age. For instance. For helpful overviews see. In other words. illness and death. 1 . economic.INTRODUCTION Subject. Focus and Context of the Study This is a study of gender and ritual at a particular juncture in the history of contemporary Iran. They are a key to understanding social. the rituals play an important part in their daily lives. For the subjects of the study. and the ambiguous and metaphorical language of ritual. The theoretical relevance and premise of this study is in the field of social anthropology. I use the term merely as a convenient pointer for the designated ceremonies. how are the power and legitimacy of prominent versions of femininity and masculinity maintained and renewed when undermined and contradicted by so much of daily life experience? Central to the analyses are questions about the dynamics of gender as products of power and politics. offering them social and political possibilities. The main argument of the study is that through ritual.

politics and the transcendent. roles and relations are contested and produced within a broader Islamic framework. family law courts (MirHosseini 1993 a). the state (Kandiyoti ed. destabilized and ridiculed. Some important earlier studies of ritual in the Muslim Middle East demonstrated the need . The contribution of the study is not simply to extend the range of contexts in which gender can be analysed. My work has been enormously facilitated by this scholarship. Malti-Douglas 1991). Afshar 1998. Mir-Hosseini and Tapper 2006). society. Joseph ed. Tapper 1991). This study looks at gender through the lens of collective rituals or ceremonial life in contemporary Iran. 1990. Early 1993. cultural and political processes through ritual activities. 2000). everyday lives (Bowen and Early eds. These studies challenge the notion of Islam as a simple determining factor in the gender constructs and provide valuable insights into the “Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender” (Keddie and Baron eds. 1991). Fernea 1965. reveal that gender itself is inherently unstable and ambiguous. in particular the shift from a concern with ‘women’ in ‘Islam’ to analyses of a wide range of contexts where gender ideas. literary culture (Baron 1994. citizenship (Botman 1999. Najmabadi 2005). Al-Ali 2000. innovation and incremental change in gender constructs. Booth 2001). nationalist politics (Baron 2005 a). but rather to demonstrate the significance of using gender as an analytic category to elucidate wider social. These processes. biographies (Najmabadi ed. 1991) in the varying contexts of Iran and elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East. Lindisfarne 2000) and public debates on gender by feminists (Islamic and secular Muslims) (Adelkhah 1991. 1998. speech genres in the market (Kapchan 1996). diverse interests are revealed.2 introduction yet also challenged. Examples include poetry (Abu-Lughod 1986). The study thus demonstrates how religious practice becomes a site for negotiating the relationships between self. temporary marriage (Haeri 1989). piety and politics (Mahmood 2005). This study suggests that religious practice takes on a different sense when lived experience is in conflict with the powerful gender narratives. political processes (Paidar 1995). Moghadam 1993. modernity (Abu-Lughod ed. marriage (N. Hoodfar 1997 a. it is argued. providing possibilities for self-expression. When attention is given to multiple voices and a wide range of rituals. 1993. Friedl 1989. Badran 1995) and by religious thinkers and clergymen in contemporary Iran (MirHosseini 1999. A vast amount of literature exists on Islam and gender. employment (Poya 1999).

or as a means for resolving tensions in the social or symbolic system (Bateson 1958. following Marilyn Strathern (1988). depending both on how gender itself is understood and used for the analyses and also on the kind of ritual theory underpinning the study. Thaiss 1973). Schieffelin 1985). Lévi-Strauss 1963). Tapper & R. Turner 1961). Gerholm 1988. see Bell (1992: Ch. rather than being concerned with gender as an analytic category in the sense undertaken here. 3 For a helpful succinct overview of these theories. reflecting or affirming prior concepts or ideologies (Geertz 1973. including history and class. Mahmood 2005). which structures all aspects of life.introduction 3 for adopting a gender perspective (see. Gluckman 1963. pp. N. performative approaches to ritual as an activity (Bell 1992. or the social and political functions of the men’s Muharram rituals commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husseyn (AD 680) (for example Aghai 2004. It is inevitable that studies of gender and ritual can deliver different results. 1989 a). Chelkowski 1979. Subsequently. Lewis 1986. I analyse gender. which Scott analyzes in detail. Holy 1988. in a metaphorical sense as category differentiation encompassing many aspects of life. also Joan Wallace Scott (1988) on gender as an analytic category in terms of how it constructs difference. Combs-Schilling 1989. Ritual may be viewed primarily as communicating. 30–47). Humphrey & Laidlaw 1994. Boddy 1989. but most powerfully (though not solely) through activities that anthropologists conventionally call ritual. as an instrument for social control (Bloch 1986. or they may discuss gender roles or ideologies as projected or reproduced in ritual contexts (for instance Abu-Zahra 1997. Buitelaar 1993.L.2 It is argued that gender in this widest sense is produced as a result of specific activities that people undertake in everyday life. 2. . Hughes-Freeland 1998. Tapper 1987). roles and relations (see below). which include (but are not limited to) gender identity. a number of informative studies of ritual activity in Islamic contexts appeared in the form of articles or essays in edited volumes where gender perspectives are involved. Those that do consider ritual activity are primarily concerned with the history. It examines how people construct gender through ‘doing’ in line with the social and political realities in which they 2 See.3 This study follows the more recent. But there is still a dearth of extended research with ritual and gender as the main focus.

However. b) on the impact of the revolution on lower middle class women. despite many contradictions and widespread dissatisfaction with the clerical rule.5 Not sur- 4 See. At the time of this research (1992–93). mothers and grandmothers of small shopkeepers.4 Women’s support of the government and their understandings of gender and religion are of crucial importance to the Islamic regime that uses gender issues to ground much of its legitimacy. Tapper and R. and at the time of going to press. due in part also to the economic sanctions by the West. Tapper 1987: 72). almost a decade and a half after the revolution. but also with the disastrous effects of the long war with Iraq (1980–88) that began almost as soon as the Islamic Republic was established in 1979. The book is based on field research in the lower middle class quarters of south Tehran. The significance here is that gender is a product of ritual activity rather than its cause. not only with the aftermath of the revolution. the country was still struggling. There were grave economic and social problems. with little or no education beyond their early teens. especially concerning healthcare and widespread unemployment. Many of the women I met had lost a husband or son. The war produced numerous casualties. who were designated as “martyrs”. The Islamic regime in turn sees the lower middle classes as key supporters.L. In Iran social class (tabaqeh-ye ejtema'i) has always been strongly associated with lifestyle and economic factors. notably in rural develop- . lower-level employees. The women I knew best supported the revolution and regarded the particular changes brought about by the Islamic regime as an endorsement of their traditional style of life. N. The primary subjects of this study are the wives. there have been many positive social and economic achievements. also Patricia Higgins (1985 a. artisans and traders.4 introduction live. In the aftermath of the revolution of 1978–79 that brought an end to the Shah’s regime. and shouldered the consequences of this loss. 5 Since this research was conducted. the population living in the lower middle class areas had high expectations for social and economic welfare and improvement in their living standards. The effects were felt particularly by women. Class as well as gender are central to people’s conceptualizations of social life. in Chapter 5 I look at men’s rituals as a means of shedding further light on women’s ritual life (cf. They had been recruited mostly from the poor and the lower middle classes.

Islamic and secular women and a few men had begun to be increasingly vocal in ment and healthcare. Keddie (2003: Ch. symbols and discourses (Eickelman and Piscatori 1996: 7).” (velayat-e faqih. such as the arts. disputes had begun at the highest levels over the legitimacy of the conflation of political and religious leadership. Among the religious circles of this study. known as the “guardianship (or government) of the jurist. The women of this study were increasingly critical of the widening gap between the revolutionary promises and the realities in which they lived. who paved the way for the emergence of the popular reformist government of Mohammad Khatami after the presidential elections of 1997 (see. 255 AHQ/AD 868) to bring justice. This was also the early post Khomeini era. . they were becoming increasingly politicized. political instability and rapid change without a charismatic leader like Khomeini to allay the anxieties of the masses. 2002) and political and religious discourse (Mir-Hosseini and Tapper 2006: 9–38). Others were government supporters. The intervening period was a time of economic hardship. 12). Rituals are important arenas for the women in their crucial struggle over social accomplishment and the legitimate definition of their social reality. The early 1990’s can be characterized as a period of lively political debates and the emergence of an increasingly vocal dissident group of religious intellectuals. Poya 1999) as well as an impressive flourishing in cultural and intellectual affairs. an expert in jurisprudence. film (R. fiqh). Tapper ed. For a succinct overview see. as well as the conflation of religion with the institutions of state. I use ‘politics’ in the widest sense as a bargaining process among several forces or contending groups over rules. In either case. this was the beginning of widespread disillusionment with the hopes that the revolution had raised with the maxim of justice and social equality ('edalat-e ejtema'i). There have also been moves towards more gender equity in education and employment (Kian-Thiébaut 2002. the (Hidden) Twelfth Imam (imam-e ghayeb. Mir-Hosseini and Tapper 2006: 10–38).introduction 5 prisingly. b. The early 1990’s was a particularly important moment in the post revolutionary era with regard to gender issues. Many among them also criticized the autocratic methods used by the clerical rulers to control the daily lives of individuals. this situation was fertile ground for the resurgence of the millennial belief in the imminent reappearance of the Mahdi. With Khomeini’s death in the summer of 1989. which is attributed to Ayatollah Khomeini as a challenge to prevailing social differences.

Torab (1996. with its implicit . 2002). Poya (1999).7 Women. In the years leading up to the revolution of 1978–79. as forms of grassroot networks that played an important role in the success of the Revolution (cf. proliferating at a fast pace. resulting in fragmentation among the circles (Torab 2002). Tabari (1986). Badran (1991. Women’s religious meetings as well as being venues for prayer and worship became forums for demonstrating political affiliations. who notes the politicisation and mobilisation of religious activities. 7 For the debates on the tensions between Islam and feminism. see Afshar (1996 & 1998). Kamalkhani (1993. Much of the gender activism was conducted by an educated class of women through the medium of feminist oriented magazines.6 Their main concern was with internal social and political issues and with developing new understandings of the religious texts. b). including women’s rituals. 1996. Paidar 1995: 207). irrespective of their 6 See. Hegland (1999). cf. 2005). Mahmood (2001. This magazine included articles by secular Iranian feminist lawyers. egalitarian interpretations of Qur"anic verses relating to gender issues. 1996 a & b. such as the influential. “the general acceptance in Middle Eastern studies of a modernization paradigm. academic Iranian scholars from abroad. but notably also reformist male clerics. which was launched in 1992 (Mir Hosseini 1999: xiv–xvi. 1998: 62–82. Paidar. No matter how conservative or ideologically Islamist this religious education might be. See also Mir-Hosseini. privileges traditionally reserved for men. Tohidi (1994) and Torab (2001). There was an astonishing increase in female preachers with large numbers of followers among women’s interlocking religious circles. 1998). and they opened access to religious seminaries. were socially diverse and had different political leanings and loyalties. Moghissi (1999). Najmabadi 1998). Cf. self-described “feminist” journal Zanan (“Women”).6 introduction articulating a gender progressive discourse within an Islamic framework (now commonly referred to as “Islamic feminism”). Higgins (1985 a. who rightly notes. Advanced education goes hand in hand with religious activism (Eickelman 1992). who presented novel. The clergymen leaders had encouraged higher religious education for women as soon as they had established their regime. 1995). These circles. women’s religious circles had increased rapidly. it inadvertently opened prospects for feminist thought. Adelkhah (1991: 131–155). providing thereby unprecedented opportunities for women to gain positions of religious leadership and authority. Perhaps the most significant development in Iran in the early 1990’s in respect of the theme of this study was an upsurge in women’s religious activism. Najmabadi (1998).

not expressed as women’s rights as such. “To simplistically conflate women’s concerns with the interests of men of their class robs women of agency” (1995: 21). act out in their daily lives this “feminism” (Islamic or otherwise). even if this has gone unnoticed. they were fully aware of their political potentials. both secular and Islamic. also the studies by Hegland (1991) and Higgins (1985) of conservative. see Kian-Thiébaut (2002) and Poya (1999). They too advocated their own gender interests.introduction 7 political loyalties. my use of it is more in line with Margot Badran’s (1995: 19–20) sense of a “feminist consciousness”. It is to be emphasized that while educated and middle class women (secular or Islamic) discursively make explicit gender rights and freedoms within Islam. and of the lower middle class. 9 See. Although the women I knew well never adopted the feminist label themselves. lower middle class Iranian women’s participation in revolutionary politics and their perspectives on women’s rights issues. education and class positions reacted strongly to the limits on women’s rights introduced in the first years of the revolution. Because of perceived threats from a hostile West. Paidar also questions the presumed political unity of women from the same economic class in her analysis of women’s massive participation in the anti-Shah movement (1995: 212). in present day Iran. 10 Cf. also Fn. but also by the historical circumstances in which they occur. continue to blur the actual experiences of women and the politics of gender in the contemporary Muslim world” (1999: 8–9). Having participated in revolutionary politics. the Iranian authorities made attempts to redraw social and political progressive and activist approach. 7 above for studies on the tensions between Islam and feminism. combined with an uncritical adoption of theories of women’s movements in the West. See.10 Rituals are shaped not just by the personal experiences of the individuals concerned.8 This included the middle aged and older women in the religious circles that I knew best. and were even hostile to it. On the convergence of women across class. but in terms of social justice. however. and refers to similar comments by Bauer (1983) and Hegland (1983 b). which addressed their everyday needs and helped them make sense of their daily lives. much as women (in varying ways) have been doing for a long time everywhere. rather than from activist engagement. . the women of this study.9 The rituals presented here took shape in this wider social and political context. 8 As Margot Badran states. who are of an older generation with little or no education. through their ritual practices. derived from the lived experience of the individuals concerned. Patricia Higgins (1985) and Janet Bauer (1983). Their concerns were. welfare and a practical piety.

This creativity is contingent on underlying cultural assumptions. Each has a momentum and mood (hal) of its own. economic. which in Persian (as in Arabic) means gathering. distinctions are not made according to whether a ritual is ‘religious’ (mazhabi) or ‘secular’ (doniyavi ). but significantly they also led to the invention of new rituals. No two ritual performances are the same. depending on the personal preferences. submission to God. people use specific designations for each ritual. at times. prayer. Significantly. which are themselves subject to interpretation and manipulation. we confront issues of gender.8 introduction boundaries.11 11 Cf. More generally. The diversity is striking. Piety was a subject of serious contemplation in the women’s religious meetings and when asked. but according to whether it is intended as a celebration ( jashn) or as a mourning ('azadari). in the sense of basic moral and ethical behaviour. argument as to what should or should not be done. worship. But the mores of expression of that piety are variable and at times starkly contrasting. Through an examination of the ritual activities of the subjects of this study. Rituals are a key to understanding some of the most crucial social. But their enactment of piety in practice was highly flexible and at times highly controversial. Every occasion is different in its social circumstances and as regards the issues at stake. religion and politics. Not only are these developments evident in existing rituals. belief in afterlife and observance of religious prescriptions as defined by the religious authorities. Anthropologists agree that it is reductive to view piety as having any essential features. political and cultural processes in Iranian society. rather than a more generic equivalent majles. and could be used ideologically or as political markers of difference among the religious circles themselves. although in practice all these elements are variously present at the same event. All the rituals are performed within contexts of piety (taqwa). preoccupations or perspectives of those involved. with improvisation and. class. they generally associated it with narrowly specified kinds of behaviour. I follow local usage and avoid using the label ‘religious ritual’ deliberately because the boundaries of the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ are fluid. The pious women of my study would concur with this view. Any attempts at classification would fail adequately to account for the wide spectrum of rituals that exists in Iran today. Tapper (1984: 247) on how claims to piety are used politically and ideo- .

In particular. it is necessary to first disclose the assumptions underlying my use of the analytical constructs ‘gender’ and ‘ritual’. roles and relations (MacCormack & Strathern 1995. or un-Islamic ‘innovation’ (bed'at) when referring to certain rituals. Declarations of difference such as these serve to hide relations of power and privilege. Distancing mechanisms based on contrasting images of the ‘other’ are also used locally with politically charged labels such as ‘superstition’ (khorafat). this study assesses how the categories of male and female are produced and understood. Moore 1991: 7. The purpose here is to inquire into the social. but rather as contextually specific constructions encompassing many aspects of life beyond simply gender identity. the rituals may appear culturally ‘exotic’ (Said 1978). and attempts to monopolize religious discourse. But there is much that is familiar. also Loeffler’s study of the diversity of religious beliefs in a village in Iran. power and inequality—class.introduction 9 To a reader unfamiliar with Shi'a Muslim practices. Clifford 1986) makes it clear that analysis is not neutral. The reflexive turn in anthropology (Marcus & Fischer 1986. but “a trope for the representation of knowledge” (Strathern 1988: 18). not least when cultural practices are analysed by examining issues of politics. reproduce and shape these ‘cultural’ practices and articulate people’s everyday implicit assumptions and representations of the world about them. Even ethnographic ‘description’ is not free from theory and the fuzzy boundary between theory and data needs to be acknowledged. gender is seen as a metaphorical base on which difference itself may logically to mark differences both within and between rival communities. Ortner & Whitehead 1989). See. In this wider sense. To do this. See also Mahmood (2005) on the intersection of piety and politics. An Approach to Gender and Ritual Rethinking Gender In social anthropology today we no longer assume the categories of female and male to be self-evident. . economic and political processes and relations of power that produce.). and in particular his theoretical commentary on studying “Islam in practice” (1988: 245 ff. gender and other systematized difference.

a secret to be discovered everywhere: sex was thus able to function as a unique signifier and as a universal signified” (1990: 154. in an artificial unity. Del Valle ed. 14 In her discussion of ‘partibility’.15 Responding to the criticisms of voluntarism. 15 Foucault says: “. events. Butler (1993) argues that gender Strathern (ibid. and so on which draw upon sexual imagery— upon the ways in which the distinctiveness of male and female characteristics make concrete people’s ideas about the nature of social relationships” (Strathern 1988: ix). Moore (1991. This includes.) acknowledges similar remarks made by La Fontaine (1977) and Ortner (1974). substances (such as food. 1989).14 The notion of gender multiplicity or instability does not mean the disappearance of powerful discourses that seek to inscribe fixed gender identity.10 introduction be understood. with detachable attributes. sequences. sensations. 12 . it orders a wide range of values and ideas” (Strathern 1989: 170). “though the imagery of difference is sexually based. the notion of ‘sex’ made it possible to group together. “those categorizations of persons. 13 See Butler (1990 a & b. . cited also in Moore 1993: 197). (1993). anatomical elements. and pleasures. and it enabled one to make use of this fictitious unity as a causal principle. blood. rather than an origin. psychology. Strathern (1988: 13) refers to Marriott’s (1976: 111) analysis of South Asian theories of the person as ‘dividual’. but rather their dispersal and realignment under contest in performance. Strathern (1988. . Marylin Strathern suggests that persons are ‘permeable’ and multiply constituted of the relationships that produced them. The rethinking of gender as category differentiation means that gender constructs are not simply about men and women or their relations. artefacts. Gender as ‘Performance’ Judith Butler (1990 a. Cornwall & Lindisfarne (1994). 1994). 1993). biological functions. Cf. conducts.13 It opened the way for a radical rethinking of gender as flexible. practices and structures. Rather. which in turn questions the notion of ‘boundedness’ implied by the concept of the ‘individual’. sociology and anthropology produced the supposedly ‘biological facts’ of sexuality in Western medical discourses. 1993) coined the notion of ‘gender performativity’ following Foucault’s (1990: 154) argument that ‘sex’ itself is an effect of discursive practices.12 An increasing body of literature has challenged the sex/gender divide by considering the gendering of body parts. an omnipresent meaning. milk) and social acts. anatomy. b. Jordanova (1995) on how the combination of physiology. ‘produced’ through regulatory processes.

17 Butler (1993: 109) refers here to Foucault’s point in the History of Sexuality (vol.: 335). Bourdieu 1992). the ‘failure’ to perform the model highlights its contingent nature and inadvertently offers the possibility to contest the gender constructs (Butler 1990 b: 141). The power of such discourse is such that gender coherence is desired and idealized. The convergence of religious and political authority in the Islamic Republic means that gender distinction operates not just within the realm of religious ‘belief ’ or cultural ‘symbols’. roles and relations. that the regulative law provides the ‘discursive occasion’ for resistance and potential self-subversion of that law. so that the relations of power are. 16 . premised on the binary categories ‘man’ (mard ) and ‘woman’ (zan). Judith Butler’s approach to gender recognizes the taken-for-granted structures (or ‘doxa’. Rather.17 This agency by default explains the fact that unitary gender must be constantly affirmed. Gender distinction is crucial to an Islamic worldview and plays an important role in the organization of everyday life in Iran today. the regulatory norms are paradoxically enabling (Butler 1993: 109). gender ( jens.introduction 11 ‘performativity’ is not to say that people are free to ‘perform’ or change their sex at will (hence her use of the term ‘performativity’). She argues that the disciplinary production of gender is discursively and institutionally sustained within the obligatory frame of reproductive heterosexuality (ibid. whereby people participate in their own domination by the systems that produced them. so that gender discontinuities are concealed. productive. hence the “iterative nature of gender performance” on which Butler’s (1990 a.16 Since it is impossible to embody gender coherence with any regularity. This is similar to Bourdieu’s (1992) concept of ‘symbolic violence’. above all. “that the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality” (Butler 1990 a: 336). It reveals that unitary gender is just that. Gender Distinction in Iran In Iran. In other words. 1. 1990). b) argument rests. but also allows for the possibility of challenge and change in the gender constructs. jensiyat) is generally understood in the sense of gender identity. an ideology that competes with other conceptions. but also at the level and core of state institutions.

even in the case of hermaphrodites. see Mir-Hosseini (1996 a & b). 1981) and Ayatollah Mortaza Motahhari (d. Mir-Hosseini (1999. c) for current debates with leading conservative scholars. the apparently benign role of gender complementarity is inherently political.21 They have gone to great lengths to avoid gender ambiguities. KianThiébaut (2002). religious thinkers and scholars are entrenched in the Islamic traditions and are particularly well-known and discussed in the feminist scholarship on Iran. Moghadam (1993). cf. De Groot (1996) and Kandiyoti (1996). 22 Clearly. On the debates among Islamic feminists in Iran. the conservative views of leading clerics. see Afkhami (1994) and Azari (1983). Paidar (1996) and Rostami Povey (2001). 1979). MirHosseini & Tapper (2006: 163–172). see Mir Hosseini (1999. On secular feminist movements in Iran. Women and men may be equal before God. For critical assessments of the feminist scholarship in relation to Islamic discourses see. but the conservative forces construct them as different sorts of citizens. but this usually implies asymmetry as well. In their view. see Mir Hosseini (1999: 283–285) and Torab (1998: 35–41). They advocate at best a model of complementarity between the sexes. Moghissi (1999) and Tohidi (1994). 19 On the changing debates among religious thinkers. not create it (Mir-Hosseini 1999: 35–37.20 The argument they present is that gender is God given and biologically fixed.18 Views on gender roles and relations may be diverse. which are in turn linked to ideas about agency. For brief overviews and further references. b.19 But. contested and undergoing rapid change in today’s Iran. 2002 a. 2002 a.22 18 On the links between gender and state. and both conservative and reformist clerics in contemporary Iran. see also Connell (1990) and Kandiyoti (1991).12 introduction This means that the whole political process is gendered (Mir-Hosseini 1999: 273). In short. and on questions of gender and modernity in relation to Islamism. c). gender equality is contrary to Islamic law (shari'a) (Mir-Hosseini 1999: 23). where hermaphrodites with ambiguous genitalia were thought to have a ‘true sex’ that was concealed and extensive precautions were taken in rules of behaviour to ensure that the gender boundary was not breached (Sanders 1991: 77). a surgeon’s role is to discover its ‘real’ sex. b. autonomy and morality. These naturalistic assumptions are used to justify and sustain inequalities in rights and responsibilities. gender discrimination is not limited to religious discourse. This is based on the construct that women and men have different mental and emotional capacities. whose arguments on gender issues are derived from the influential teachings of leading clerics like Allameh Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Tabataba"i (d. It was also . 20 See. Najmabadi (1998). 21 Similar views were held in Medieval Islam. Najmabadi 2005 a). rigidly prescribing the boundaries between the sexes with legal codes and rituals pertaining to the minute details of everyday interaction.

6) rightly notes a need for a systematic comparative analysis of the notion of 'aql. with many implicit meanings. Peristiany 1965. Rather. Most gender analyses in the Middle East. Tapper-Lindisfarne (n. however. Eickelman (1998: 197–198).23 They may also have very different connotations in the Sufi and mystical dimensions of Islam. Abu-Lughod (1986: 90–91). Clearly. Bauer 1985 ‘morality and social responsibility’). The words themselves are polysemic. associating it more with men and valuing it above nafs. But the view resonates with the familiar Cartesian legacy of mind/body in some Western discourses that value the mind or rationality above the body or passion (Gatens 1991. Binary constructs are often asymmetrical. It is not so much that women themselves are devalued. as shown by a number of authors in various contexts of the Muslim Middle East with regard to their gender implications. and must be interpreted and put into context. Schimmel (1975).d. especially with regard to gender imagery and sexual symbols and form a crucial basis for ideological conceptions. for instance. Tapper & N. that despite claims to the contrary. but through a political language of grievance against the autocracy of the previous regime in order to demand a just constitution and manly citizens to provide protective custody for women victims (1993 a: 56). Kapchan (1996: 104.). Tapper (1991: 15 ff. cf. Lloyd 1984). Najmabadi (1993). are based on the ‘honour/shame’ complex (e. Murata (1992). Delaney 1987. R. 1991. 1990). 142). see Eickelman (1998: 195–196. The conservative forces construct 'aql as primarily masculine. as well as in the Constitutional Revolution in the early 20th Century in Iran. Torab (1996). passion). ca. For an assessment of some of this literature. 24 See. Wikan 1984. lack of control and passion or desire. Abu Lughod’s 1986 ‘honour and sentiment’. the constitutionalist discourses constructed women as second-class. Afsaneh Najmabadi argues. these constructs are subject to contextual evaluation. for example.24 But in Iran. Anderson (1982: 405–409. lust. 116. Pitt-Rivers 1977. it is what they supposedly represent. N. 1985). 25 Hertz (1973). 116). 23 See. control and morality. 241–246).g. V. 'aql is generally associated with the realm of order. which they construct as feminine and associate more with women. rationality) and nafs (the animal part of human nature. Boddy (1989: 53. weak citizens. Abu-Lughod (1986: 283–84 n. this construct was not legitimized through recitations of Qur"anic verses. Turner (1967) and Bourdieu (1992) examine asymmetry in . although a bias against women is often an effect of such conceptualisations.introduction 13 Central implicit metaphors for gender distinction in the discourses of conservative religious thinkers are the complementary concepts of 'aql (reason. while nafs is associated with the realm of disorder. Rosen (1984: 31–47). 1966. Tapper & R. N. Tapper (1988).25 The concepts of 'aql and nafs are homologous entrenched in social and political discourses under the secular regime of the Shah. 107.

Chief among them are formal Islam/un-Islamic novelties (rast-dini. 28 Moore (1999 a) makes a similar comment in her introduction to a study of African ritual symbolism. even while the oppositions are upheld. spirit or soul/body (ruh/jesm). mutually exclusive model of gender.27 Rather. . see Joy et al. paradoxes and illusions. 26 See Mac Cormack & Strathern (1995) for an early critique of analytical categories like nature/culture (Ortner 1974) and public/private (Rosaldo 1974). Islam/bed'at) or superstition (khorafat). both Ch. which are highly variable and contextually specific. For a discussion of these versions. Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray. 1). parodies. Feminist scholarship has long questioned the use of binaries as explanatory terms or empirical realities. they reveal tacitly. with all its instability. initiated by French feminists associated primarily with Hélène Cioux. which is based on a dualistic. which include anecdotes. dramatic mimes. (2002) and Moore (1991 & 1994. 27 In anthropology. Even earlier. Gender constructions are inherently flexible and ritual activity is a powerful means for interpreting and managing the relations within and between the symbolic gender oppositions. the ‘female model of the world’ is frequently attributed to Edwin Ardener’s (1975) early influential model of ‘muted groups’. so that a range of possibilities emerges in performance. which he proposed as a corrective to the male bias in academic research. The model has its roots in Simone de Beauvoir (1972). or song and dance. Cynthia Nelson (1974) challenged the public/private dichotomy in the context of Middle Eastern studies.14 introduction with a range of other troubling conceptual dualities that are gendered and often biased against women in the discourses of conservative religious thinkers. spirituality or morality/materiality (ma'naviyat/ maddiyat) and pure/impure ( paki/nejasat).26 This applies equally to the notions of 'aql and nafs and their homologies.28 systems of homologous contrasts. The rituals in this book serve to demonstrate that the relations within and between these concepts are not fixed. There is no overall consistency apart from a constant effort to reproduce the gender oppositions. The hierarchical valuations of gender must compete with alternative versions that are derived from the lived experience of those concerned. It continues with the school of “l’écriture feminine”. implicitly or explicitly the shifting ground in both the dissolution and production of unitary gender. The gender variations that the women produce in their ritual performances cannot be attributed to an ‘alternative female model’. who sought to revalorize the ‘female experience’ in protest against a male-centred rationalist discourse. but contested. reshuffled and blurred as they resurface repeatedly in the performances. including the deceptively simple opposition of right and left (Bell 1992: 102–104).

A prominent theme running through this book is that a unitary gender only becomes so through particular activities. but defy any simple correspondence with the social realities (Harris 1995. Indeed. . symbols are ‘multivocal’ (V. The power of ritual rests partly on the imaginative use of metaphors and symbols. but are discriminated against sociologically.introduction 15 Single-sex rituals are a dramatic means of reinforcing gender distinctions and correspond to the pervasive separation of the sexes in many spheres of social life in Iran. Sexual segregation need not imply relations of domination. 1999b: 152). Strathern (1988: 158–159) on collective identification as a sphere of political agency in Melanesian ceremonial exchanges. or when they are claimed to be from God. The symbolic constructs are powerful.29 Much of this insistence on separation is over concerns with human reproduction. separation creates the conditions for connection (Strathern 1988). especially when they are naturalized in terms of blood. women may be powerful agents of renewal symbolically. But. To remain persuasive. social regeneration and the renewal of life. Moreover. but the construct of male blood as regenerative is linked to the notion of patrilineal descent and the political authority of men. ideas about renewal and regeneration are masculinized through the trope of blood shed by devout men’s self-flagellation in semblance of sacrifice (Chapter 5). For instance. Moore 1999a: 26 ff. it is precisely because the boundaries of female and male are unstable that appeals to 29 See. conducted before veiling became politicized as an oppositional tool in Islamist identity politics. Anderson’s (1982) argument in an early study on veiling. or feminized through the trope of votive food as a channel for barakat (blessing) with women as the recognized conduits (Chapter 4). ideas must be constantly renewed and ritual activity is a powerful medium for creating reality. is that the veil is primarily a means of gender separation intended to manage cross-sex interactions and create relations between the sexes rather than sever them. or mental and emotional capacities. Paradoxically. Gender specific rituals are the very means whereby groups of women and men each create a unitary identity as a sphere of political agency. By contrast.. Turner 1967) and subject to interpretation by diverse actors according to their lived experience.

such as those formed around ritual activities. These issues need not be about cross sex relations. there is nothing about being ‘female’ or ‘being’ female that naturally binds women divided by forced consciousness of class. I examine the ways in which sexual images are linked to ideas about the body.) such as neighbourhood. based on “‘fictive’ affinities” (Haraway ibid. thus remaining within the naturalistic framework. nor necessarily imply hierarchy. but about much wider issues that concern the ‘absent’ sex as well. In this study. by looking at how the gender categories are themselves produced. reproduction. Similarly. race and so on (1990: 197). roles and statuses alone is therefore limiting. As Donna Haraway writes.16 introduction naturalistic assumptions and the transcendent become necessary to legitimize gender dichotomy. descent. Small face to face units. ideologized and legitimized in ritual contexts makes it also possible to see the ways in which change can come about. ‘patriarchy’ makes no sense when a man’s position in the household is not confirmed by his experiences of race or class. Such classifications are of course problematic. They are not intended to inscribe identities. ‘the problem of women’ is resolved. but also at the quotidian level of gender performance in ritual activity. age and sexuality which intersect in complex ways (Fraser & Nicholson 1990: 35). To focus on gender identity. It inadvertently reinstates the gender fixity it seeks to dismantle because it takes for granted that gender is about ‘men’ and ‘women’ or their relations. ethnicity. but to indicate how people themselves understand their relations to others. not just at the level of scholarly texts and public debates among the educated and learned. This may then be ideologized in terms of relations of complementarity or hierarchy. Same-sex rituals do not simply tell us about women or men. reli- . morality and aspects of selfhood. are particularly effective for creating coalitions. It simplistically assumes that once the material determinants change. the categories ‘male’ and ‘female’ are themselves brought into question. all of which emerge in various transformations in the ritual performances. race. More significantly. Gender and Class Gender is but one strand among other salient markers of difference such as class. Feminist scholarship has long explored the implications for political action given the multiple differences within as well as between the genders.

the divisions are still in place. See. Kandiyoti (1991) and the contributions in Abu-Lughod (1998) for the complex intersection of gender. Hourcade (1987) 34 See Fn. tied up in complex ways with the West in the politics of cultural ‘authenticity’. but despite attempts to desegregate the city after the revolution. class has been an important factor in people’s conceptualisations of social life. Added to these social tensions are high unemployment. also Bauer’s (1985) study of the intersection of class. Indeed.30 It has been argued that inequalities of class were among the key factors that led to the revolution of 1978–79. Arjomand (1988. political orientation and class. Arjomand (1988: 93–97. Adle & Hourcade (1992). Akhavi (1980. based on large scale interviews with women. Gheissari (1994: 239–247). A new middle class. 33 See. party of God/idol worshippers (hezbollahi/taghuti). Momen (1985: 286–89). inadequate state provisions for social security and healthcare. 5 above for reports on various positive developments in more recent years. age and other contextually specific factors in relation to concepts of self and morality among women in the lower income neighbourhoods in Tehran. Zubaida (1993: 64–83). religious and trading sectors.33 Following the revolution. as well as the continued lack of freedom of speech. as well as unitary gender. . despite being individually complex. Fischer (1980).introduction 17 gion. the subjects of this study form ritual alliances to promote their own interests. Bauer (1983). education. class and national identity. who provides further useful references (2000: xiv–xv). 31 The literature on the complex issues that led to the revolution is substantial.31 Revolutionary rhetoric challenged the prevailing social differences with oppositional slogans like oppressed masses/powerful elite (mostas'afin/mostakbarin).34 These work particularly to the disadvantage of those whom the revolution was intended to benefit. See. Najmabadi (1987). See. the social and economic divisions are left intact. many of the secular middle classes and the ruling elite left Iran. This study offers glimpses of these social tensions at the time the research was conducted. In Iran. 1986). So. 103–105). many from the more well-to-do traditional. It points to the ways in which class intersects 30 See. 32 See. also Martin. for instance. despite a certain amount of mobility.32 The north/south social and economic axis of Tehran is well documented. 1984 a. downtowner/uptowner ( pa"in-shahri/bala-shahri ). Such “imagined communities” (Anderson 1993) are formed as a sphere of political agency at the expense of suppressing alternative perspectives. Keddie & Hooglund (1986). although the composition is new. has taken their place. Farsoun & Mashayekhi (1992). Paidar (1995: 212–217). Keddie (1981). b).

is associated with the learned scholars ('ulama). Tapper 1995). this book provides an insight into how individuals negotiate the world about them by resorting to the cultural means at their disposal. if not of belief. . who are conventionally men. society. Cantwell-Smith (1957) suggests the problematic concept of ‘orthopraxy’. and that there are as many ‘Islams’ as there are Muslims. and that the task of ethnography is to account for variations from this model (cf. Others argue for an ‘anthropology of Islam’ (El-Zein 1977. who argue that ‘Islamic essentials’ should be taken as the norm. implying that Muslims share common set of religious practices. Jansen (1987: 86–91). but also a disguised metaphor for ongoing class differences internal to Iranian society itself. Tapper & R. defined as an ‘official’ or ‘orthodox’ Islam. Distinctions that tend to brand certain populations as subordinate are comparable to the nineteenth Century evolutionist ideas of Edward Tylor (1832–1917) 35 For discussions and overviews on the distinction between so-called formal and informal Islam see. A newly invented girl’s initiation ceremony (Chapter 6) is not simply a means for resistance to a perceived cultural onslaught from the West. Practicing Islam The relationship between the putative levels of ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ Islam has been central to much of the anthropology of the Muslim Middle East. Far from suggesting that people necessarily became more pious with the establishment of the Islamic regime. 10).35 This distinction has often been used to assess men’s and women’s beliefs and ritual practices. Lambek (1990) and N. provide the women with possibilities for reclaiming the revolutionary promises of justice and equality. 1988.18 introduction with gender as seen through the lens of ritual activity. whether through vows to the supernatural agents and saints (Chapters 2 & 4). Religious practice becomes a site for negotiating the relationships between self. 1992) are similar to those of an ‘Islamic anthropology’ (Ahmed 1986. Tapper’s 1995 critique). 36 The views of the proponents of an ‘Islamic orthodoxy’ (Gellner 1981. R. Eickelman (1998: Ch. politics and the transcendent. Tapper (1987: 69–71). Davies 1988). El-Zein (1977) suggests that there is no common ‘core’ of accepted dogma. The first. Asad 1986. the illiterate and the rural. Appeals to the transcendent.36 The second implies a ‘local’ Islam or ‘popular’ practices and beliefs that are primarily linked with women. or through dreams and visions of the Mahdi (Chapter 3).

Torab 1998: 144–157). A prominent discourse in Shi'a Islam is the martyrdom of Imam Husseyn (ad 680). Kamalkhani 1998). Hegland (1998. eslam-e rastin) and its supposed deviations. Kalinock 2003: 185. suffering and persecution that guides people’s affect and acts as a 37 For studies of the Muharram rituals in Iran see. abject Shi'a world view of grief. Akhavi (1980). Thaiss (1972. b) [Pakistan]. Pinault (1992) and Aggarwal (1971: 161–65) [India]. Tapper (1979). Flaskerud 2005. Hegland (1983 a & b. This bias reflects local ideological discourses and evaluations by the representatives of a religious ‘orthodoxy’. produced by historically situated. 1980). 1973). in particular on the ways in which these rituals have been instrumental in political conflicts. philosophical and universal religion. Torab (1998: 144–157). ‘orthodoxy’ is a ‘discursive tradition’. hence un-Islamic) and the products of ignorance ( jahl) and superstition (khorafat). such as the women’s highly controversial votive meals called sofreh (Chapter 4). authoritative interpretations. 1995 a. who died during the month of Muharram in Karbala. Algar (1972). the third Shi'a Imam and grandson of the Prophet. including the Iranian revolution of 1978–79. . It is intended to prevent the dissemination of ‘innovative’ interpretations of the religious texts that are written by authoritative men. Chelkowski (1979. in effect silencing women. For elsewhere in the Middle East see. Much of the literature on Shi'a ritual practices focuses on the men’s public commemorations of the Karbala events. and that all the people concerned derive the same message from the same text (Parry 1985: 202). Keddie (1972). Attempts are also made to control women’s popular religious meetings ( jalaseh) (Chapter 1) by introducing training and certification for the female preachers who preside over these meetings (Torab 1996: 248. has provided many scholars an explanatory frame for an alleged. A textual tradition can only constitute an ideological unity if one assumes coherence and unity of ideas and values within the texts themselves. cf. A familiar distinction they make is between ‘true religion’ (rast dini. a term coined by Michael Fischer (1980). which they define as ‘innovation’ (bed'at.37 This ‘Karbala paradigm’. Some more recent studies also look at women’s Muharram rituals (Aghai ed. Fernea (1965) [Iraq]. 1991). Fischer (1980). Gilsenan (1990) [Lebanon].introduction 19 and James Frazer (1854–1941). who saw magic preceding the literate. Schubel (1993) [South Asia]. Chelkowski & Dabashi (1999). As Talal Asad (1986. for instance. 2005. 1983) argues. Aghai (2004). Alberts (1963).

Fernea & E. At that time. Many other examples that focus on grief and mourning may be cited. there is an allegedly widespread female phenomenon of weeping. 161–65). Abedi’s childhood recollections of his village include much humour. Grima (1992). For instance. Pinault (1992: 56–7) sees the Muharram rituals as “rites of penitence” that provide a context to weep for the failure of the Kufans to help Husseyn in the battle of Karbala. teasing and sexual banter between onlookers and actors of the passion plays (ta'ziyeh) (Fischer & Abedi 1990: 14–15). . and that. Azadeh Moaveni vividly describes a carnival-like atmosphere in the street processions. Fernea suggest that Shi'a women’s emphasis on suffering serves as a catharsis and identification for mothers whose children die for incomprehensible reasons (1978). I move away from seeing religion as a cul- 38 Del-Vecchio Good & Good (1988) construct sorrow and grief (gham va ghosseh) as the master metaphor for social. However. political and emotional behaviour and selfdefinition of Iranians.38 There is no doubt that the tragedy of Imam Husseyn’s death has shaped Shi'a theology and spurred political action. the traumatic and the negative in their rituals” (1973: 234). by far the most important religious occasions are those associated with death and suffering” (1973: 251). “While feasting days in Shi'a Islam have religious importance. an emphasis on suffering and grief may have been relevant for the years leading up to the Revolution of 1978–79.39 In this study. Flaskerud (2005). it is evident that a focus on ‘paradigms’ or sweeping ‘world views’ leads the analysis away from the more interesting questions of context. Thaiss says: “More particularly the Shi'a strongly emphasize the sad. Such an observation cannot. Beyza"i reports on the comic and ludic in both women’s and men’s passion plays (1966: 138–39. with participation by middle class boys and girls flirtatiously passing on telephone numbers before being dispersed by the morality police (2005: 57–59). the clergy emphasized oppression of the people by the Shah and preachers focused on the tragic and the melancholy in their sermons for ritual effect. indeterminacies and contradictions that are part of people’s everyday lives. In a more recent account. mourning and pollution in Iran (1989 b: 226). however be generalized. R. Richard Tapper (1979) notes the festive quality of men’s street processions (dasteh-ye sineh-zani) during that period. For instance. 39 One might compare other accounts of the Muharram rituals. With Bloch. Moreover.20 introduction spur for political action. Sahraee-Smith (2001) and Schubel (1993: 72–73) also emphasize grief or mourning. Von Grunebaum observes: “It would be incorrect to say that Husain stands in the centre of Shi'a dogma. but it is unquestionably true that contemplation of his personality and fate is the emotional mainspring of the believer’s religious experience” (1951: 87 cited in Eickelman 1998: 267).

Kalinock (2003a &b). Tayba Hassan Al Khalifa Sharif (2004) (Iraq). Women’s ritual activities are particularly revealing of the complex relationship between so-called formal and informal religion. there are constant interchanges of ideas and images between ritual specialists and participants (Antoun’s response to Bloch. however. cf. 2002. Hoodfar (1997 b). Women 40 Bloch (1989a) and others cited in Boyer (1993:185) argue that rituals are in fact particularly non-expressive. Bloch (1989a) contends that ritual statements are coercive. in contrast to the men’s rituals that are presented with explanatory ‘paradigms’ for the society at large. see pp. Elsewhere. For Iranian women’s rituals in London. except to women themselves. such as Masse (1938). 115–125. 1998) (Pakistan). Some unpublished theses are Braswell (1975). Schumacher (1987) (Bahrain). SafaIsfahani (1980). We rarely learn why some rituals in Iran are so popular.41 Significantly. assuming united and consistent pre-existing meanings that only need to be activated through ritual. Muslim women’s rituals include Abu-Zahra (1997) (Egypt). Such a theory allows for little variation. Torab (1996. study of Jordanian sermons demonstrate that despite exegetical supervision by traditional authority. Richard Antoun’s (1989). in contrast to the creativity of ordinary language. Kamalkhani (1996. Shokurzadeh 1967) and ethnographic Museum records (Anjavi-Shirazi 1992: 16). why they take the particular form they do. Sahraee-Smith (2001) and Torab (1998). 1998). b. see Spellman (2004). . Tapper and R. Why one should need ritual to do this is not clear. women’s rituals in Iran often appear as ‘domestic’ and insignificant. 41 Apart from travel accounts. 229–234). Kalinock 2003:173). novels (Beyza"i 1966. To understand these issues we need to explore the tension in the highly gendered religious economy.40 The main conundrum here is how to account for social change if ritual only expresses collective representations leading to conformity. or why they should be the specific concern of women or men. Sorabji (1994) (Bosnia) and N. Buitelaar (1993) (Morocco). why they should be disparaged or tolerated. Grima (1992) and Hegland (1995 a. Jamzadeh & Mills (1986). In the Persian language there are textbooks (Anassori 1987.introduction 21 tural text (Geertz 1973). Torab 1998: 40–51. Katira"i 1969). 2008 forthcoming). But. because ritual language has a limited propositional content due to its formal structure. studies of women’s rituals in Iran are mostly in the form of articles or chapters in edited volumes. Tapper (1987) (Turkey). Hedayat 1963). ‘folkloric’ collections (Anjavi-Shirazi 1973. that a whole spectrum of women’s ritual activities have not received the serious regard they deserve. This means. See Adelkhah (1991: 131–155). allowing no scope for alternative understandings by ritual participants. 2005. 1992. The academic focus on men’s ritual activities during Muharram is no doubt also because of their very public and spectacular nature. Betteridge (1989). as has been previously noted (see. Flaskerud (2004 & 2005).

referring to Ardener (1975) and Messick (1987). “We do not suggest that women and men necessarily have discrete systems of belief and practice . like the model of ‘muted groups’ (Ardener 1975). the following studies of ritual based on a complementary gender model: Lewis. Tapper and R. . how to account for the different interpretations of the world by women without positing a complementary gender-based value system within a single worldview (cf. implies a model of gender as coexisting. Rituals are no longer seen as communicating pre-existing ideas. the various actors. Schieffelin (1985). “The zàr and orthodox Islam are not competing religious ideologies.42 Complementarity. Fabian (1990). and an understanding of any particular Islamic tradition depends on examining both (1987: 72). in line with their concerns. The problem is. Boddy. relied on a single informant for understanding the complex symbolic meanings of the Ndembu rituals. describes zàr as a “muted expression of women’s alternate reality” (1989: 158) and also.43 The emphasis on performance is used in various ways. bounded and mutually exclusive. “Thus if there is a dual spiritual economy [male and female]. 44 Victor Turner (1961). but they may each experience and interpret them in different ways within a plurality of ideologies and power relations that informs their everyday lives. 42 . but produced through it as a source of political agency.22 introduction and men may share the fundamental tenets of their faith.44 Instead. intentions. Schechner (1985). The premise of a performative approach to gender and ritual is that a unitary gender is not the cause of ritual activity. which are then interpreted by the ethnographer or privileged local informers. A study of Turkish Sunni Islam by Nancy Tapper and Richard Tapper (1987) demonstrates for instance that some key spiritual elements that are central to women’s rituals are marginalized because of the dominant mosque-centred religious ‘orthodoxy’ identified with men. Bell (1992). Hughes Frieland (1998). Gerholm (1988). N. but that different aspects of a religious system may be the province of one sex or the other. Tapper. Ritual as ‘Performance’ In more recent years. strategies or inter- Cf. Humphrey & Laidlaw (1994). there has been a fruitful move away from an ‘informative’ to a ‘performative’ approach to ritual. however. Parkin (1992). its two branches are interdependent and complementary” (1986: 106). Kapchan 1996: 5). for example. . 43 See. but different facets of a single conceptual system” (1989: 279). rather than as inherently flexible and unstable. dualistic.

In other words. the body is not simply a symbolic medium of expression for the relationship of self. but also a contested. there is the separation of thought and action in ritual theories based on the mere communication of pre-existing concepts. appropriation and expansion. Similarly. It may be an active site of dispositions (Bourdieu 1992) and discipline (Foucault 1977). society and cosmos (Douglas 1966.46 The focus in performance theory 45 Gerholm (1988) shows that far from being a form of social control. but these are by no means determining. with a plurality of perspectives and viewpoints by the participants. 46 Jackson refers to Bourdieu on the difference between ‘practical mimesis’ and verbal analogy or metaphor (1983: 343 Fn. but this does not necessarily lead to submissive behaviour in all contexts of daily life (Chapters 1 & 6). The focus on the body in performance theory is a reaction to three related issues (Bell 1992: 94–97). First. but it is never simply the case that existing values are imposed or internalised without reflection. the act of prostration during the daily prayers (namaz. But because the performance is an ‘incorporated’ disruption. we note the devaluation of the body in a social theory grounded in the Cartesian mind/body dichotomy. ritual activity is “fragmented”. so that no single meaning can prevail. Harrison (1995) focuses on what he calls ritual strategies of valuation. redefine or construct new interpretations.introduction 23 ests. For instance. it “lays people open to possibilities of behaviour which they embody but ordinarily are not inclined to express [enabling them to] control and recreate their world. Arabic salat) may generate a body identified with subordination. Central to performance is what ritual achieves through ‘doing’.45 There is inevitably a degree of tension involved in the appropriation of the prominent symbolic system. In this study. 37). political field. and offer competing gender perspectives. . all of which are aspects of political action. Third. their habitus” ( Jackson 1983: 335–336). innovation. Cohen’s (1993) study of the Notting Hill carnival shows the dynamic of performance. transgressions in a so-called reversal ritual (Chapter 7) are contained within that context and not in any obvious way outside the ritual context. create meanings through ‘doing’ in specific contexts. Second. both intellectually and discursively through words (Austin 1962) and through the body and its senses ( Jackson 1983). Turner 1967). ritual activity is here the very means whereby people negotiate. we find the disregard for material realities of embodied subjects in interpretive theories. so that ritual becomes a site of “contested meanings” (Parkin 1992).

This makes ritual activity particularly powerful. the social and the cultural. This process is an important part of the conditions for change. because it is “an embodied perception” ( Jackson 1983). Far from implying mystification or being duped. ritual activities give rise to new understandings. new interpretations are possible. Rather. because the symbolic oppositions and metaphors are brought into play without closure. depending on the perspective of the authors. endlessly deferred (Bell 1992: 104–107).24 introduction is that ‘doing’ is more than critical reflection. negotiated appropriation. This is similar to Bourdieu’s concept of “complicity” with dominant values as neither passive nor voluntary. In the performative approach. cognitive influence) or a “mask of power”. . but is naturalized (for instance in terms of ‘biology’. The issue here is how to account for the agency and creativity of actors in the context of relations of power. which in turn is experienced as empowering by the ritual participants themselves. resistance. and redemptive reinterpretation of the hegemonic order” (Bell 1992: 195–196). but an act of “misrecognition”. ‘Islam’) or claimed to be from God. enabling actors to negotiate the self. no matter how incremental it may seem. Jenkins (1998: 104). On the concept of misrecognition see. which can render the obligatory into the desirable (Turner 1967). for example. 47 Bourdieu’s concepts have been interpreted as being more or less determining. Bourdieu’s concept implies “a strategic engagement in a struggle over symbols” (Bell 1992: 190–191). ‘tradition’. cf. in that it both produces and negotiates power relations “by acceptance. It is therefore not a case of ritual reflecting ‘common codes’. The power of ritual is largely in the metaphors (Fernandez 1986. Such power is particularly effective when it is not attributed to a political source. or neatly resolving social and structural contradictions.47 A basic feature of ritual activity is that meanings are not fixed but implied and like Derrida’s concept of différence. including authoritative versions (Moore 1999 a: 15–16). ritual is not an instrument of social control (indoctrination. but is itself a type of power. it is necessary to look at a whole spectrum of ritual activities and those described in each of the chapters of this book are part of this larger process. In order to see the play of possibilities. Because they are open-ended. Lakoff & Johnson 1980) and the ambiguity of symbols.

We meet a ‘repentant sinner’ called Goli. freelance female preacher. but they are neither simply private nor domestic. where an enterprising woman mediates curative vows to the saint Zeynab. Chapter 1 is the longest. Her voice gives narrative continuity. possessed of independent views. the very context that defines these. morality and cultural assumptions about healing.introduction The Organization of the Book 25 Each of the eight chapters provides a description and analysis of a particular ritual performance in the annual cycle of the subjects of this study. illness as a metaphor (Sontag 1977) for social relations embedded in the political economy. As sites of contestation. Each chapter is self-contained. Two concepts are central to my analysis here. The focus is on how gender boundaries become blurred by way of anecdotes. The focus is on the way ideas are formed and promoted in the ritual context rather than whether they are sociologically effective. The next three chapters (Chapters 2. The chapters are linked by the voice of Mrs Omid. who describes her calling and transition from a state of . But of particular interest here is the image of Zeynab as care provider and the questioning of the established categories of ‘production’ and ‘reproduction’ in a religious setting. Nonetheless. whom we encounter in Chapter 1. the intersection of gender. Firstly. the importance of these meetings far exceeds their modest domestic appearance. Chapter 3 pursues questions of agency and the contingent nature of identities within relations of power. and secondly. These meetings are held in the home. there are evident continuities as each chapter examines the productive tensions that are inherent in the gender concepts. Her comments on the activities and the views of others come up in various contexts throughout the book. We become acquainted with the social and political climate of the moment through the lens of Mrs Omid’s discourse in a type of religious meeting called jalaseh over which she presides. ‘Islamic jokes’ and interpretations of the religious texts. but takes the shape of a negotiation. She is an orthodox. 3 & 4) present women who act as intermediaries between humans and the supernatural. though this is implied. Chapter 2 takes us to a healing ritual (majles-e do'a daramani ) at a popular votive centre. Each of the women is an innovator. while also highlighting a plurality of perspectives. I suggest that the women’s apparent collusion with the authorities is not simply a case of exploitation from above.

I suggest that in the process. I follow theorists of gender performance and locate this indeterminacy at the heart of performance itself. an icon of purity.26 introduction ‘impurity’ as cabaret star to her vocation as a conduit for barakat by means of a ‘revelatory dream’ of the Mahdi. The chapter examines the intersection of gender with assumptions about the body. The chapter begins with a joyful celebration (mowludi ) of the birth of Fatemeh. which is of ideological significance for the organisation of society. These votive meals exemplify how women construct a unitary gender as a sphere of political agency. Chapter 4 looks at women’s controversial votive meals known as sofreh-ye nazri (lit. but also Goli’s tense struggle over conformity with prescribed femininity. The focus here is men’s spectacular public rituals which commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husseyn (ad 680). which Shi'a texts present as the paradigmatic act of sacrifice. Chapter 5 presents an alternative conception of renewal. chastity and submission. they also blur the gender boundaries in a context where religion and morality vie with politics and self-interest. but despite its ideological force. The mowludi is held at Goli’s house but is presided over by a female preacher loyal to the state. are involved. including relations to the saints as extensions of self. The themes of Chapter 7 have much in common with so-called reversal rituals. This ritual is called both “Celebration of Worship” ( jashn-e 'ebadat) and “Celebration of Puberty” ( jashn-e taklif ). class and an ‘authentic Islamic self ’ vis à vis the Western ‘other’) are porous and contested. in which the participants indulge in the very acts they nor- . reproduction and descent through the trope of blood. The chapter explores how a dream comes to constitute an aspect of personhood. offering possibilities of transforming the self and forging a new identity. It was first instituted at schools after the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Chapter 6 considers processes of gendering an ungendered child in a ritual that anthropologists conventionally view as the initiation of adolescents in preparation for their roles as adults. These are characterized by “carnivalesque” (Bakhtin 1968) questioning of the ‘high’ and ‘low’ by inversions of norms of conduct. It highlights the tension between an intellectual and emotional approach to religious practice. I examine these as sacrificial rites and as channels for barakat (blessing). the identities it seeks to inscribe (gender. votive meal cloth). Specific definitions of intentions (niyyat) and persons. corresponding to the notions of ‘gift’ and ‘commodity’.

My husband and I had left for Europe about two years after the revolution of 1978–1979 and returned in the early 1990’s when the political situation appeared to have stabilized. . although the liberating potentials must be partially relativised to the context of the ritual itself. when more than at any other time. The women’s ritual performances reveal that rather than negate the body. nor of those it seeks to describe. the goal is to gain spiritual excellence and control over the body. accessing thereby the sacred verses of the Qur"an unmediated by the deductive reasoning of specialist exegetes. Though I have tried to accurately reproduce my observations as they 48 For critical perspectives on such debates see.48 The debate overlooks the fact that irrespective of whether researchers are ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’. and the way this effects the production of anthropological knowledge. Altorki & Fawzi-el-Solh (1988). Much has been written on the merits of doing ethnography ‘at home’. Nowhere are matters to do with the “grotesque” body dealt with so explicitly in a public forum as with this quintessentially Shi'a ritual. Moore (1996). Fieldwork Context and Method The fieldwork for this study was conducted after twelve years of absence from Iran. Kondo (1986). Attempts are being made by the clergymen leaders of the Islamic Republic to suppress these popular rituals chiefly because of political considerations. 1997). Abu-Lughod (1986. The last Chapter considers various women’s ritual activities during the month of Ramadan. and that there can be no understanding or interpretation free of value or of the presuppositions of the author. they somatize their experience of the divine. or on the alleged problem of gaining sufficient ‘distance’. they are positioned relative to the subjects of their study. combined with the new puritanical severity and anxieties over morality. They thereby construct a female subjectivity that counters the mind/body dictates centred on the male subject and its needs. where bodies on display disrupt what Bourdieu (1992) calls “habitus”. for instance.introduction 27 mally scorn. It is now common for anthropologists to admit that their ethnographies are ‘partial truths’ (Clifford 1986). Hoodfar (1994).

Outside the context of the rituals. attributing it to my absence from Iran for most of my formative years and beyond in pursuit of other knowledge. I was allowed to record the proceedings on tape. The focus on ritual activities inevitably excludes many other aspects of the women’s lives. Most of them understood my interest to be ‘folkloric’. The women in this study are all strict observers. not least their familial relations. the ceremonies I describe are not exhaustive or comprehensive. When I attended the ceremonies. I soon developed great respect for the women and the way in which they lived their lives. or have been. my encounters with the women were limited. in the making since this fieldwork was conducted. to study ‘manners and customs’ (adab va rosum). fasting (rouzeh). There may be many that I did not know of as well as others that I could not attend in the available time. But the women did make certain demands. Although I was straightforward about my research. payment of the religious taxes (khoms and zakat) and other duties prescribed for Shi'i believers. These included conforming to their strict code of dress.28 introduction occurred. My secular upbringing in the years of the Shah was readily seen as a product of the times and they generously excused my ignorance of the religious injunctions. They frequently commended my decision to study religious practices and considered it a religious duty to encourage my attendance at their ceremonies. they wanted to assume that my intent (niyyat) was more than academic. And although my style of life was (and is) different. This allowed me to ‘record’ events in Persian as they occurred. On a few occasions when a ritual extended late into the night I . I wore a black veil and thick black stockings instead of the overall and headscarf prevalent in the northern parts of the city where I lived myself. Arabic salat). Moreover. Still other rituals are. It was quite acceptable to take notes during the ceremonies. The ones that I do consider are an important part of the women’s lives. On other occasions. apart from the names of individuals to protect their privacy. I wrote them up subsequently. often on the same day. they are inevitably partial and selective. They adhere to the religious injunctions (ahkam-e din) which include daily prayers (namaz. I indicate this material clearly in my text. On the occasions when this was not possible or appropriate. as they called it. My fieldwork is not a conventional community based study. but none of the incidents are invented.

I may therefore have over simplified the life of the people represented.introduction 29 stayed over in the house of one of the women and was always well received. I have attempted to make sense of a complex field experience. creativity and resourcefulness. Within the limitations posed by the focus of this volume. . My writing attempts to encompass and analyze their resilience.


3). an established and respected preacher who presides over the meeting from a prominent position at the top end of the room. 1998: 62–82. The descriptions are based on my field notes and tape recordings made with Mrs Omid’s permission during the meeting. I sit cross-legged on the carpet in a spacious living room. This one is a good example of the topics relevant to this study. see Adelkhah (1991: Ch. 2002). a flat roofed brick building in a lower-middle class quarter of south Teheran. During the mourning season. also called ‘explanatory text on problems [of religion]’ (resalat-e towzih-al-masa"el).2 These precepts are written by leading Ayatollahs 1 During my fieldwork (1992 to 1993). mostly mothers of grown children and grandmothers. corresponding to Safar. jalaseh are arranged in series of ten days (dahegi) in commemoration of the tragic events on the first ten days of Muharram in ad 680 that led to Imam Husseyn’s martyrdom on 'ashura (the tenth day). with a carpeted back cushion behind her and a low table in front. The venue is a private house. 107–117.1 She sits on a blanket covered with a fresh white sheet. For other accounts of jalaseh. are about eighty other women of varying ages. are treatises written by the Ayatollahs . I attended numerous jalaseh. the occasion a women’s religious meeting called jalaseh. on which is a large volume of the Qur"an. the second month of mourning after Muharram on the Shi'a lunar calendar (Table 1). With me. We are listening to Mrs Omid. the walls of which are draped with black cloth banners bearing 'ashura elegies. 2 The books of precepts (ahkam or vajebat). Kamalkhani (1996) and Torab (1996.CHAPTER ONE BLURRING BOUNDARIES A JALASEH DISCOURSE: FIELDNOTE EXTRACTS AND TECHNIQUES OF A PREACHER The Time and the Venue: 14 Safar 1414 AHQ/4 August 1993 It is a hot early afternoon in August 1993. about seventy of which were presided over by Mrs Omid. a book of prayers and supplications called “Keys to Paradise” (Mafatih-alJanan) and a few copies of the religious precepts (ahkam) that are integral to Shi'i piety. sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Our hostess has sponsored this ten-day jalaseh series in her house each year for the past twenty-five years in fulfilment of a vow (nazr).32 chapter one and according to Shi'i doctrine. fairly open. Her husband. The treatises set out to clarify around three thousand ‘problems’ (mas"aleh. As with all the meet- who are designated as ‘sources of emulation’ (marja'-e taqlid). . The atmosphere is generally one of a friendly formality. believers are bound by the edicts of the religious leaders they choose to follow. bringing with it credentials in this world and religious merit (ajr. The precepts and ethics (akhlaq) together form the Shari'a. jalaseh also became important for demonstrating political allegiances. merchants and friends. helps willingly with various tasks such as shopping for this all-female activity. pastries and sometimes other food are served. Their meetings offer a taste of the pleasures of this world as much as prospects for the next. Reflections on the Religious Precepts: Cultivating Virtuous Dispositions Today is the fourth day of the first ten-day jalaseh series (dahegi-e awwal) dedicated to (be niyyat-e) Imam Husseyn. For a translation of Ayatollah Khomeini’s book of precepts. see Fischer & Abedi (1984). There are two servings of tea. flexible and convivial. see Torab (2002). With the proliferation of religious activities in the years leading up to the revolution of 1978— 1979. and on special anniversaries fruit.3 Women formed jalaseh circles around female preachers of their choice. question) relating to ritual duties for lay people. But the stake women themselves have in the jalaseh goes far beyond that of serving the interest of men. from so"al. The eating of such food is believed to confer grace (barakat) on the partaker. one at the beginning and another at the end. arranging their meetings on an open-house basis ( jalaseh-ye 'umumi) in their homes in monthly rotation. Barakat is seen as emanating from God and the sacred verses of the Qur"an recited during the meetings. 3 On the politicization of women’s religious circles. Attendance demonstrates a person’s piety. a fabric retailer in the bazaar. The main purpose is to deepen religious understandings. which is derived from interpretations of the Qur"an and the Prophet’s Traditions (sonnat). savab) for the next. Men often contribute to women’s ritual enterprise. for it brings them kudos within their own circles of traders.

This constitutes a prime example of “techniques of power” (Foucault 1977) and “bodily hexis” (Bourdieu 1992). bending.4 Shi'i perform the prayers as an act of submission to God each day in three sessions. in a sober and earnest tone. Mrs Omid has opened the session formally in the name of God. which define in minute details the rules of the religious duties incumbent on the believers. for which she appoints a competent woman to take the lead. ‘holy war’) and the religious taxes levied on net income and capital gain (khoms. They consist of standard Arabic phrases recited quietly by the worshipper. before sunrise. Preachers such as Mrs Omid play an important role in the transmission of the religious precepts and for the next half hour. gold and silver (zakat). jihad (endeavour. who must keep the body still. struggle. savab). . while going through a rigidly prescribed sequence of standing. and on agricultural produce. Arabic salat). which he can spend as he considers suitable. livestock. is in Arabic. The religious duties are meant to instil appropriate ‘dispositions’ (Bourdieu 1992) and to ‘discipline’ (Foucault 1977) the mind and the body of the worshipper. Then she opens the book of precepts. This has been a major source of independent power and wealth for the religious leaders. Alms (sadaqeh) for the poor are not among the obligatory acts (vajebat). ‘one fifth’). beginning with about fifteen minutes of intoned “shrine visit greetings” (ziyarat nameh) from the prayer book Mafatih-al-Janan. like the Qur"an. Half of the khoms goes to seyyed (the Prophet’s descendants). This does not mean that the text is unintelligible. between noon and sunset and after dusk. hajj to Mecca. Repetitive acts inevitably give rise to inattentiveness or distraction and a particularly common problem during the daily prayers is to forget whether a particular section (rak'at) has been performed. Today’s topic concerns the daily prayers (namaz. which only a few of the women understand. All these rules are defined in detail in the book of precepts. kneeling and prostration. but are religiously recommended as reaping spiritual reward and merit ('ajr. This book. Starret 1995 a). which are one of the six obligatory acts of worship incumbent on Muslims. Listening to the recitation is itself meaningful and is considered to be highly meritorious. If the rules are not followed to the letter. she explains one of the precepts and then invites her listeners to ask questions if they wish. although clearly they are open to transgression (cf. and half is the Imam’s share (sahm-e Emam). 4 The other obligatory acts of worship are fasting in Ramadan (ruzeh).blurring boundaries 33 ings she leads. acts of worship can be easily invalidated.

“Does s/he perform namaz?” But despite its overall importance as a devotional practice that affirms the faith. conversational one and says: Some women were sitting around talking. Mrs Omid goes over these rules. When this begins to falter. Self-conscious of my veiled piety in my conspicuous position next to Mrs Omid (not my choice). One got up. I often hear them say that no one could call themselves a Muslim if they did not perform namaz. that which is powerful is ‘taboo’. she draws on her stock of apposite anecdotes (hekayat) and jokes (shukhi. latifeh). Mrs Omid’s circle of followers generally regard the daily prayers as the “pillar of the religion” (sotun-e din) and infinitely more important than all the other acts of worship. in spite of being defined as sin ( gonah). Today. Mrs Omid knows how to focus everyone’s attention. This one inadvertently calls attention to the incongruity of trying to approximate the disciplinary ideal while being humanly social. I try to listen. I attempt to hide my boredom. ‘You can’t perform namaz here with all the chatter. Mrs Omid’s witty parody of women as superficial. Gossip (gheybat) is a popular social activity. to regain her command of the situation. untrustworthy and prone to sin 5 As Mary Douglas (1966) famously said. She then switches from her earnest.’ said one woman to her. when I talk about the religious taxes [khoms] or money. donned her veil and stood nearby to perform namaz. It is a powerful tool women can use to construct or demolish reputations.34 chapter one This is a constant source of anxiety among the women. didactic style of talk to a more inclusive. but my attention is suddenly drawn back to her performance as she jests with the women: Now that I talk about namaz you are all silent. you ask questions all at once. but become aware of the increasing stiffness in my knees as I sit cross-legged on the floor. few respond when Mrs Omid pauses for questions. She replied. The book of precepts sets out to explain how a worshipper must deal with problems of inattentiveness via a complex set of formulas called “doubt during namaz” (shakk dar namaz). and one of their first questions when arranging marriages was. sometimes two or three in a row. relaxed. I long to escape. ‘but I want to be here precisely because I want to know if they gossip about me’.5 In effect. .

for example during menstruation or when namaz is due. This injunction is highly controversial and has various interpretations in legal discourses (see. She asks whether women still had to abide by the injunction of obedience (tamkin) to a husband who did not perform namaz. “When a woman calls down women in the manner of men. she reminds her listeners that if a woman’s motive for attending a jalaseh is to learn about her religious duties. Implying that obedience does not necessarily mean agreement. her husband cannot forbid her attendance by demanding obedience. what they say you are?” (1996: 99). Mrs Omid teaches her listeners how to be agents in their own right. who are you? Are you this.blurring boundaries 35 exposes a gender stereotype. His wife. but also with her own wishes. there is reason for suspicion.” She thereby withheld sexual favours from her husband as a way to induce him to comply not only with the decree. It is in effect a means of control over women by men. “The man that legalized our marriage has now made it null and void through this decree. Mir-Hosseini 2002). and further below in this chapter. 7 See. thereby paradoxically demanding its objective reassessment. She refers to the Tobacco Protest of 1890. premised on the notion that women are incapable of responsible action or knowing ('aql).7 Mrs Omid rises to the situation with relish. except in special circumstances. the discussion on the concepts of 'aql and nafs in the Introduction. a pious woman. 6 Deborah Kapchan aptly says. .” The upshot of what she is saying is. not to a husband or the State. using an example that encourages reflection on wider issues. The story goes that the Shah disregarded the fatwa and continued to smoke his water pipe. She implies that their primary obedience is to God. “Women. told him. Continuing with the topic of obedience.6 This humorous repartee about namaz sparks off a question from one of the participants who seems inspired to reappraise the complexity of her daily life. This story relates to an injunction that even forbids women to withhold sexual favours from their husbands. Mrs Omid thus provides ways of rethinking the injunction that teaches what one must ‘do’ to be a woman. when Ayatollah Shirazi issued a popular religious decree ( fatwa) banning the use of tobacco in protest against the Shah’s tobacco concessions to Britain.

religious tax on food left in freezers. but their listeners help reshape the direction it should take. such as namaz. orientation towards Mecca when performing the prayers in aeroplanes and definitions of the city boundary when the city itself is ever-expanding. but they do not cater for the realities of everyday contemporary life. according to whether one is within the boundaries of one’s place of permanent residence. which take up by far the major part of See also Bauer (1985: 121) who says that many of women of her study took pills to stop menstruation so that they could make pilgrimage and enter religious places. based on notions of impurity. The precepts are written in simple language. giving them the opportunity to ask questions if they wish. during menstruation. Questions posed by the women concerned issues such as treatment by male gynaecologists. 8 .36 chapter one Mrs Omid claims that the main objective of jalaseh is to explain the precepts to lay people. rather than simply a means of legitimating the views of those in authority. why must women compensate for their fasting debts accrued due to menstruation. 9 Different rules apply for some obligations. For instance. vexed at the many inexplicable details in the treatises that are to be followed to the letter without being questioned. jalaseh is a collaborative venture and preachers are far from being mere spokespersons for the prescriptions authored by men.9 Of particular concern were the rules about ritual purity (taharat). A recurrent feature of Mrs Omid’s talks is the simultaneous reinforcement and undermining of the rules. jalaseh are arenas of contest over what constitutes a legitimate interpretation of the world. In effect. Mrs Omid once said in exasperation: The ladies keep asking me: why this rule and that rule. ritual purity of clothes washed in washing machines. or travelling outside its boundaries. Clearly. even though the questions are in effect practical questions about problems that the women encounter in trying to adhere to the rules in specific situations. She says that the women are overly preoccupied with detail (vasvas).8 Questions such as this irritate Mrs Omid. It is particularly striking that a discussion on the religious precepts that are meant to instil discipline can encourage conscious reflection and spark off wider discussion. Preachers may prescribe ‘proper’ ritual discourse. ablutions and fasting. but not for namaz missed for the same reason? Only God knows the real reason! The religious rules forbid women the right to worship. or to attend a mosque.

11 This is similar to the pragmatic caveat of an Ayatollah cited in Fischer. 184). Such differences.10 Some questions included details such as whether water should also pass inside the mouth and nostrils. not difficulties” (1980: 64). see Fischer (1980: 63–64). 12 For the concept of intent (niyyat) in various other contexts. or how to determine the hairline in the absence of hair. . required for intermittent menopausal bleeding. though 10 Other examples of ritual purity are ghusl (complete immersion in water) required after sexual intercourse or before the first day of the fast in Ramadan and estehazeh.). whose tax rules slightly differ. as though lending it. If rules are made too complex. when washing the face during the ablutions.blurring boundaries 37 the book of precepts. In the Qur"an it says that God wants heaven for us.13 Some of the measures included strategic timing and switching loyalty between Ayatollahs (marja'-e taqlid. not by the outcome of their acts. the women also work out creative ‘legal’ means of tax avoidance called jestingly “legal tricks” (kolah-e Shar'i gozashtan). “Waswas [preoccupation with detail] is the thinking of the devil. 13 One of the methods practised by preachers who have the required permit to help those unable to pay their taxes is as follows: the person hands a banknote to the preacher (as expression of niyyat to pay the taxes). 301–306. and for Morocco see. by the way the women interpreted the religious tax injunctions (khoms). These seemingly insignificant details in effect revealed the women’s concern with definitions of the body and its boundaries as an interface for divine grace (see Chapter 8). Mir-Hosseini (1993 a: 169. Warning against ritual for ritual’s sake. Mrs Omid said robustly in one of the meetings: It’s the intent that counts. Laghzaoui (1992: 89–97) and Rosen (1984: 47 ff. local preachers themselves help devise the legal circumvention of rules by invoking the notion of intent (niyyat). Bowen (1993: 23–25. spiritual guides). for example. 319–320). In cases of hardship. The notion of intent allows people considerable leeway in their interpretations of the religious rules and is central to everyday relationships between people and between them and God (see Chapter 8). which consist of rubbing water over the cardinal points of the body from top to toe in a specified order. In spite of scrupulous adherence to the tax rules.11 I frequently heard that God judges by a person’s motives or “the heart’s intent” (niyyat-e del/qalb).12 This pragmatic attitude is demonstrated. no one will buy them. and for Indonesia see. Torab (1996: 240–241). Many questions revolved on the ablutions (vozu) performed for the daily prayers. This transaction is repeated until the tax due is covered. The preacher returns the banknote.

This ambiguity provides an opportunity for local preachers to adapt and effectively devise rules for practical application in daily life. as a dutiful wife. I heard her give advice on questions of the religious precepts. and forceful personality and above all by her piety and spirituality. We sit crosslegged on the floor in front of her modest library of religious books. thus challenges religious monopoly and serves to decentralize the authority on which the texts are founded. conveying a sense of completeness. since she leads a simple life and insists on being treated in the same way as others. For the first time. Her house. the phone rang constantly. coherence. The dissemination of the religious texts by local preachers. Her face is virtually unlined. sorting out herbs for the evening meal. even though she is almost seventy. is open to all who wish to visit her and seek her advice. are fairly numerous and are used by the women to good advantage. Interlude: A Biographical Sketch Who is Mrs Omid and how can one relate her biography to her simultaneous reinforcing and undermining of the rules. quick wit. teacher and mentor of several hundred women in her neighbourhood. These distinctions reveal contradictions in texts that are legitimized as divine order and presented as unambiguous and clear. Her authority is combined with camaraderie. and as a respected preacher. integrity and well being. darkly hennaed abundant hair.38 chapter one said to be ‘mere details’. and she is called on for personal guidance on moral and . I see her without a headscarf. To her followers. She is small. as a caring and loving grandmother. People say she is humble (khaki). She also declined an invitation to preside over a jalaseh. a suitable marriage alliance and for the husband of one of her followers asking whether he should embark on a new business venture she unwillingly performed a Qur"anic divination (istikhareh). Her gatherings are always crowded with admirers who are drawn by her verbal dexterity. I accompany Mrs Omid to her house after a three-hour-long jalaseh. as her time was already fully booked. Her community standing is considerable. She is comfortable about the various arenas in which she lives and acts. slim and full of energy. As I tried to engage her in conversation. she is a figure of strength. whose talks are shaped by their listeners. which has only the bare necessities. exposing her shiny.

people also hand her their religious taxes to pass on to their chosen Ayatollah. 15 Temporary marriage (sigheh) usually bears a social stigma. 1994) and Mir-Hosseini (1993 a. she attended only elementary school. . Her standing is not a reflection of any given social relation. whose religious precepts. Mrs Omid has earned her position through her manifest piety and practical intelligence. She is also a key figure in distributing charitable funds raised during the gatherings she leads for the less fortunate in their neighbourhood. they follow. Neither of her parents is seyyed (descendants of the Prophet) nor learned scholars.15 Even now. Islamic law rigidly regulates relationships between unrelated men and women (na-mahram) who are forbidden to interact without observing rules of gender avoidance such as veiling. such as between mother and son-in-law. Occupying a role designed for men cannot be easy. Using the rules imaginatively. as pious as he was. On the institution of ‘temporary marriage’ see. As a trusted preacher. in theory. She wished to study at home with a clergyman and her husband agreed. b). Religious learning was her only means to further education. Mrs Omid was a particularly strict observer of these rules. she still pursues her religious education with the clergyman. yet this did not stop her telling jokes on the subject. She once remarked wittily during a meeting that her husband barely remembered how she looked because. she arranged a ‘fictive’ temporary marriage of a non-sexual kind between him and her child daughter. although she said he was uneducated himself. whom she greatly respects.14 Avoidance was clearly impractical in regular face-to-face contact with her clergyman teacher. at seventy. She in 14 There are strict rules for looking at unrelated persons of the opposite sex (namahram) in the book of religious precepts (ahkam). which is intended to create a permitted relationship (mahramiyat) between the parties concerned. remaining valid even after the marriage contract is terminated.blurring boundaries 39 spiritual matters by women and sometimes by men. called colloquially ‘above mid-body’ (sigheh-ye nim taneh be bala). but it was not achieved without some creative thinking on her part. Haeri (1989. Like many of her women followers. further education was seen as tantamount to handing girls over for illicit sex (zena). which would enable her to interact more freely with her teacher in pursuit of knowledge. She told me that when she was a child. but not so in the case of the non-sexual kind. he always walked with his head down lest his glance fell on an unrelated woman.

similar to men’s formal religious associations (hey"at). fame rests on the invited preacher and prayer leader in charge. In this sense. These younger preachers now posed a challenge to the sphere of influence of those who had trained in the traditional way at home. 17 On the organization of women’s religious circles.40 chapter one turn has a few selected students. aggravated by the possibility of shifts in allegiance by followers. Thus. whom she teaches twice weekly in her home. Kazemi (1980: 63. theologically trained women. whose loyalties to the state have opened up new prospects for gaining religious leadership. as well as by a range of other women who have gained popular followings as intermediaries for vows and supplications. “I am merely a 16 Hey"at may be local neighbourhood associations (hey"at-e mahalleh). Among them are some younger. see Torab (1998: 62–82 and 2002). 18 This contrasts with the observation by Lindisfarne (1994: 84–85) about the categorical images of competitive males and passive women presented in the early summary accounts of Muslim social and political relations. jalaseh circles are more like networks of political alliances. Arabic bid'a). their particular aspirations and type of religious sentiment and motivations in forming these hey"at. rivalries are not always explicit. and several less prominent ones. in her neighbourhood. Women’s jalaseh circles are unlike men’s formal religious associations (hey"at) that are formed primarily on trade affiliations. The effectiveness of a preacher depends upon their observing these rules. independent of the patronage of older. Mrs Omid has to contend with six other established female preachers. or based on common professional interests (hey"at-e senfi) with designated titles or distinct names that indicate the members’ profession.16 The women’s religious circles centre on the popularity of a preacher chosen by the members. women’s religious meetings are not unlike local mosques in the way they compete with each other for attendance. 92–96) and Thaiss (1973: 202 ff. but centred on single. Arjomand (1988: 91–93).18 In both instances. It is evident in their unassuming statements about their own qualifications. freelance local preachers such as Mrs Omid. . See. but whose activities Mrs Omid denounces as superstition (khorafat) and as un-Islamic innovation (bed'at. powerful women. for competitiveness is theoretically frowned upon in a religious sphere where humility and modesty are supposed to prevail. None the less.).17 The competitive climate among female preachers is thus intense. geographical origin.

Mrs Omid. which are formulaic praises in Arabic to the Prophet and his successors rendered usually in normal speech. A few of the women respond with ritual weeping. And in accordance with the notion that spiritual work is outside the realm of the market. Those who have become ‘celebrities’. compromise their reputation and are frequently the target of criticism. one relevant to the period of mourning during Muharram and Safar. These last about an hour.blurring boundaries 41 guide” (rahnama). suggesting both that she is sensitive to her audience’s wishes and conscious of having shaped their tastes. such as fruit juice. She is creating the appropriate ritual mood (hal). a loudspeaker—or being served with items that are special treats. ever alert to her audience. These items could not be served to everyone because of the food rationing and inflated prices current at the time. which she leaves to individual discretion.19 19 The salavat formula in Arabic is as follows: Allah-u masalleh 'ala Mohammad va . Thus. hot milk or cocoa instead of tea. Back to the jalaseh Seeing the women’s lack of response to the precepts on that hot August afternoon. stopping as soon as Mrs Omid initiates a sequence of salavat. decides to begin earlier than usual with her commentaries and the Qur"anic exegeses (tafsir) that her followers consider to be the hallmark of her talks. Mrs Omid gives the impression of being a giver rather than a receiver. almost half the time of the entire meeting. she never negotiates over her fees. which ensured ‘repayment’ in the form of deference and respect. She disapproves of being given preferential treatment—an armchair. moving among the jalaseh circles up-town. Before embarking on her exegesis. demanding high fees and preferential treatment. ‘modesty’ is only part of a more complex pattern of producing privilege by ignoring that privilege and treating everybody as if they were equal. Mrs Omid begins by chanting a short dirge (zikr-e mosibat) in her deep mellow voice. says Mrs Omid. adhering to rules that she herself helps devise. Leadership in the absence of formal office is a matter of personal influence and—as she once said in a matter of fact way— of “knowing your customers”. By avoiding the demeaning consequence of specifying fees.

to our Prophet. one that would readily acquiesce to oppression and corruption to hasten the return of the Mahdi (Vali & Zubaida 1985: 150. AHQ 255/AD 868). their loudness and frequency are a reliable indicator of the response of participants. the ‘occulted’ twelfth Imam (b. . the Mahdi did not die but disappeared from the sight of ordinary people in the ‘great occultation’ (gheybat-e kobra. There is often an added phrase: va 'ajjel farajahom. from which derives the Persian word hedayat. When attention begins to falter or when a dispute arises.20 In theory this belief denies legitimacy to any form of political power or 'ale Mohammad. salavat are a spontaneous response to a preacher’s talk when someone is deeply moved. ‘to guide’. whereupon everyone joins in a chorus of triple salavat. often implying divine guidance (Madelung 1986). cf.42 chapter one The salavat are used liberally during jalaseh and can be initiated by anyone. this identification is highly politicized in terms of current debates over legitimate leadership. Preachers use it as a device to indicate the beginning or end of a session or a change of theme. Another title for the Mahdi is Hojjat. Mrs Omid’s use of salavat is well in tune with the sensibilities of her listeners. for they know that by ‘leader’ (rahbar) she means the Mahdi. the ‘occulted’ twelfth Imam (b. Often. which refers to a desire for the early reappearance of the Mahdi. during which the Mahdi was in touch with people through messengers. the ‘Hidden Imam’ (imam-e ghayeb) is ‘the Lord of the Ages’ (saheb-e zaman). in order to reappear at the end of time. Until such time. As we shall see. Mrs Omid’s salavat hint at what to expect of her commentaries. on ‘the promised day’ (ruz-e mow'ud). AHQ 255 /AD 868). Fischer & Abedi 1990: 48–49. a reportedly clandestine society that began in the 1950’s as an anti-Baha"i society which is associated with an extreme version of Messianic quietism. 228). AHQ 329/AD 941). For the doctrine of Occultation. She dedicates them as usual in the following manner: “To all our martyrs from the beginning of Islam. The ‘Great Occultation’ began after many years of the ‘Lesser Occultation’. from which derives the word Hojjatiyeh. Momen 1985: 296. to our deceased parents and to our leader”. salavat are a crucial device for refocusing everyone’s attention by reminding them of their common Shi'i identity. Contexts: Political Culture According to Shi'a doctrine. 20 The ‘Messiah’ or the Mahdi is ‘the rightly guided one’. from the Arabic root ‘h-d-i’. see Momen (1985: 161–71).

Other branches in Shi'a Islam include the Isma'ilis (the “Seveners”) and the Zeydis. the doctrine of the Mahdi. in a series of lectures given in Najaf (1979–80). whose authority had hitherto been generally considered limited to the implementation of the Shari"a. as Momen notes (1985: 170–71). for the people. revolt and martyrdom in the cause of justice. On the concept of velayat-e faqih and controversies over it among the clergy. is a fundamental tenet of “Twelver Shi'ism” (Ithna 'Ashariya). They based their reasons on the highly controversial concept of ‘the mandate of the jurist’ (velayat-e faqih) as a means towards the conflation of religious and political leadership. 177–79. devolved upon the jurists ( fuqaha). This argument has become known as velayat-e faqih.21 It was crucial in bringing about the revolution of 1978–79. the use of the notion of the Mahdi indicates the continuing potential of this belief in challenging political authorities. 208). including government. Vali & Zubaida (1985). Bayat (1985).22 This idea was disputed by some influential Ayatollahs. Metcalf (1984: 8) and Zubaida (1993: 180). 168). after the revolution. also Calmard (1996: 165. Fischer & Abedi (1990: 128–29). Arjomand (1988: 98–99. . the concept implies a claim to absolute authority by a clerical representative of the Hidden Imam during the occultation. But. argued that all the executive powers of Imams.. filtering down to local preachers. 23 As Eickelman notes (1998: 265 n. Momen (1985: 157. see Akhavi (1986: 62). 21). Dabashi (1988). some of whom are employed by the state while others. emphasizing Imam Husseyn’s protest. and Zubaida (1982). the clergy also cast the revolution in terms of the Karbala tragedy and a perceived injustice. However. It is popularly attributed to Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–89). when oppression and corruption have reached a peak. 189ff. belief can be interpreted in the framework of political 21 “Twelver Shi‘ism” is the largest branch within Shi'ism and refers to the twelve Imams. Belief in the imminent reappearance of the Mahdi to bring justice.blurring boundaries 43 government by temporal rulers. 22 The background to the concept of velayat-e faqih is complex. was now reemployed by them to legitimize their own rule. such as Mrs Omid. According to some interpretations. remain freelance and independent. which the clergymen had employed to depose the Shah. 296). so that it constitutes one of the crucial underlying tensions between the jalaseh circles formed around the female preachers. the guardianship or government of the jurist. for it provided the clergy with the rationale for protest and rebellion against unjust rule by the Shah. 153. who. Martin (2000). 156. See. Buchta (1995). To view the doctrine of the Mahdi only in terms of a ‘belief ’ or ‘world view’ would be to disregard its political significance regarding ideas about just leadership at different times in the history of Iran. beginning with Imam 'Ali and ending with the ‘Hidden Imam’.23 Indeed.

25 These preachers were among the more radical political factions who called themselves “party of God” (hezbollahi ) and “doctrinaire” (maktabi. The jalaseh are clearly arenas for demonstrating political affiliations as well as prayer and worship. Many of the jalaseh circles. Indeed. and to other 24 Scholars studying occult belief systems in South Africa have used the framework of political economy as a critical commentary on excessive and unjust domination.24 In Mrs Omid’s discourse. hokumati). and J. The difference was obvious in the ways in which preachers employed the ritual greetings (salavat). Mrs Omid had indicated as much when I first asked her permission to attend a jalaseh led by her. 26 For an extended discussion of the term maktabi (from maktab. The relationship between religious and temporal authority was viewed in diverse ways. labels that disguised many shades of opinion. Subsequently. ta enqelab-e Mahdi. including Mrs Omid’s. See J. ideologically committed). 25 The slogans were respectively. Her idioms of distinction made me aware of how the women preachers defined themselves politically and that jalaseh were contested forums. “A loud salavat for Mr Khomeini. and Geschiere (1997). school of thought) and discourses adopted by them. the idea of the Mahdi serves as a critique that takes part in civil society ( jame'he-ye madani).44 chapter one economy as a critical commentary on unjust domination. The jalaseh might conclude with orchestrated rhymed slogans such as.”—a slogan much employed during the revolution.L. na gharbi. . see Gheissari (1994). keep Khomeini alive. the very decision to attend or sponsor a jalaseh. differences surfaced between rival preachers over their understanding of the meaning of both revolution and of just leadership. She made subtly negative references to so-called revolutionaries (enqelabi) as ideological ‘official spokespersons’ (sokhangu-ye dowlat. the preachers loyal to the state dedicated theirs to named political leaders with orchestrated prompts such as. By contrast.26 The differences among preachers affected the choices of those who attended jalaseh. the representative of the Lord of the Ages”. Mrs Omid dedicated her salavat to the ‘occulted’ leader. and the way it is held. rahbar-e ma Khomeini nayeb-e imam-e zaman. are political statements affecting the emotional texture of each meeting. accumulation of new forms of wealth and power. and na sharqi. until the revolution of the Mahdi. and Vali & Zubaida (1985). “Neither East nor West. Comaroff (1999). supported the clergy against the Shah’s regime. Khomeini ra negah dar. our leader.

Language of Authority or Authorized Language It has often been said that Qur"anic passages and Hadith contain many apparently contradictory statements that can easily be used both for and against a point. See also. it becomes fixed and decontextualized. If the written text is hegemonic. The fact that exegesis is an essential part of the meetings demonstrates that the ‘authentic text’ is only accessible through authoritative interpretation. which are central to the Qur"anic text. but legitimize authoritative comments.18: 66–78). 28 Interestingly. which constitute the crucial differentiating feature between rival preachers. a prominent reformist religious intellectual discussed the importance of the notion of vahy for reinterpretations of the Qur"an in a speech delivered on the Prophet’s birthday (8/12/1996) at a Shi'a religious Institute ‘Mahfel-e Ali’ in North Harrow. Once the oral form is written down. London. thus misleading people who did not generally study the books themselves. political and legal concerns in Qur"anic exegesis and in interpretations of Hadith. including on questions of leadership in present day Iran (1990: Ch. Abdolkarim Sorush. similarly.28 These comments are not merely personal opinions. that is. It is within this politicized context that her audience heard and heeded Mrs Omid’s usage of salavat. 27 . but a means of influencing the Fischer & Abedi clearly show the ideological. 2. 112–143). entail elements of interpretation.27 God’s Words were spoken. It is generally acknowledged that an oral text is linked to the society from which it is derived. something that must be ‘understood’. These she compared to dirge cantors (rowzeh-khan) who were not sufficiently grounded in the religious source books to be able to offer informed commentaries and explain the precepts. And it is this context that shapes Mrs Omid’s subsequent commentaries on the Qur"anic verses and Hadith. Exegesis and interpretation are ways in which the text is realigned with modern realities.blurring boundaries 45 preachers as ‘opportunistic newcomers to the jalaseh scene’ (tazeh majlesi shode-ha). Arabic dictionaries translate the term ayeh (a Qur"anic verse) as ‘sign’. Torab (2002) for specific examples of diverse exegeses by female preachers on the Qur"anic passage concerning the dialogue between Moses and Khizr (S. is translated as ‘a hint’. Both notions. the verses of the Qur"an do not provide information in themselves. which means that each verse ‘stands for something else’. the term vahy. the oral reinterpretation re-defines it. which is usually translated as ‘revelation’ of the Qur"an from God to the Prophet. In a sense.

because he himself was Light. which God guides into the heart of those that He wills.’ she said in one of her talks. danesh) is general knowledge. Participants at her gatherings arrived early in order to sit directly in front of her. binesh). these attributes are said to indicate the presence of barakat. cited in Douglas 1966: 112). rather than being seen as ‘un-Islamic novelties’. which becomes self-validating through its own success. and can in principle be acquired by anyone with training and experience. Others would place an open bottle of medicine in front of her as she recited the Qur"an. Interpersonal judgements such as these 29 “People in fact become possessors of baraka by being treated as such” (Gellner 1962. Preachers are well aware of this. decisions as to whether a preacher’s learning is ‘authentic’ or ‘innovation’ (bed'at) depend ultimately on popular appeal.29 There are many examples of how the women’s jalaseh discourses and practices create the very conditions in which they wish to believe and which in effect help produce the piety that is thought to inhere in a person such as Mrs Omid. Light (nur) is a powerful metaphor in Islamic discourses. I was offered a piece of cake left over on Mrs Omid’s plate by one of her followers who told me to eat it for its barakat. any novel textual interpretations she makes are respected and seen as appropriate.46 chapter one thoughts of others. including that of religious texts. Mrs Omid had herself said many times that ‘the face of a believer (mo"men) is imbued with light and purity (paki). . When combined. and that looking at such a face brings spiritual reward (ajr)’. However. Distinguishing between esoteric and exoteric knowledge. It is a key attribute of the Prophet.30 Mrs Omid associates it with holiness and divinely inspired knowledge. Since Mrs Omid’s followers regard her as informed and her intentions as anchored in faith. based on interpersonal judgements about a person’s piety (taqva). For instance. she said that light is a channel for esoteric knowledge (ma'refat. 30 See Amir-Mo"ezzi (1992 a & b). since the domain of exegesis constitutes one of the competitive elements among them. whereas exoteric knowledge ('elm. ‘The Prophet had no shadow when he walked under the sunlight. spirituality (ma'refat) and intent (niyyat). They said that they wanted to see her face as it was imbued with spiritual light (nurani). so that the barakat carried by her breath would make the medicine effective.

all of which affect her style of leadership.blurring boundaries 47 made in daily relationships are particularly empowering for women who are barred from holding formal religious posts because of their gender. Few women preachers command the same degree of attention as Mrs Omid. the audience’s judgements about a preacher’s performance play a crucial role in the form and content of each meeting. and where women empower those that they choose to follow. which stands for the ability to relate the text to current affairs and concerns. or to those regarded as having a more flexible attitude to the younger generation on matters such as hejab. education. in particular. but are openly discussed. despite general similarities. television.31 The degree of attention. books. personal interests and her political orientation. Hadith. Qur"an recitations. jalaseh vary according to the individual preacher. discussion and participation by attendants is crucial in establishing a preacher’s authority and conversations often revolve around assessing the content of a preacher’s talk. videos and music. These matters are not secret. exegesis. A language that commands attention is an ‘authorized language’. employment. In effect. The followers of Mrs Omid particularly admire her ‘free exegesis’ (tafsir-e azad). her knowledge and leadership. ‘Modern’ (emruzi) could mean two different things. her approach varying in turn according to her age. Over time. the procedure she adopts and the time she spends on each topic (precepts. Her generous use of irony. This is quite unlike the formalized speech that Bloch (1989 a) associates with traditional authority. ‘Accurate exegesis’ (tafsir-e daqiq) stands for formal theological training. invested with authority and legitimacy by those for whom the speech is performed. It could either refer to the sermons of the young. I heard some recurring descriptive tropes that women use to categorize preachers according to their personal preferences. It constitutes Cf. Bourdieu (1992: 170–71). allows her listeners to draw their own conclusions. 32 31 . training. thus empowering themselves. Jalaseh are thus political arenas where authority is given or denied. or not particularly ‘learned’. age-range and social background: ‘Good at Hadith’ means variously: ‘entertaining’. journals. supplications). Her talks provoke thought. not ‘political enough’.32 As a result. ‘revolutionary’ preachers who act as ideological spokespersons for the state.

rather than as an apolitical consensual ‘state’. and sin (gonah). which she defines as excessive preoccupation with this world (talab-e doniya) and a disregard of the hereafter (ma'ad ). Thus. contested ‘process’. She constantly encourages reflection on the consequences of actions in this world for the next by contrasting piety (taqva) with impiety. she presents her meetings as didactic and spiritual in content. Her talks are spiced with ideas about spiritual merit (savab. The aim of piety. who are generally older and with little or no education beyond primary school. her talks concern the wider social and political realities in which she and her women followers live and act.48 chapter one what ordinary women perceive to be knowledge that is worth transmitting and acquiring. is not theological analyses. Fernandez (1986) on the power of tropes in terms of performance. and provides a good example of piety as a politically charged. ajr). a concept commonly opposed to reason or 'aql. a popular rhetorical device of assessment and representation that rests on metaphoric links between different realms of experience.34 They are presented chronologically. but they are indicative of the themes . The extracts are necessarily selective. Back to the jalaseh: The World of Reason and Passion ('aql and nafs) What matters to Mrs Omid’s circle of followers. Despite being moralistic and ethical in content. example and anecdotal evidence.33 Rhetorical devices such as these intersperse her references to the holy verses. 33 34 See. in order to show the mode and development of her argument. In general. the principle method of her teaching is by analogy. The topics that Mrs Omid covers in her jalaseh talks are wide ranging. or promises of rewards in Paradise or punishment in Hell. and serve to legitimize her talks. is to refine the spirit or soul (tazkiyeh-ye ruh) in order to gain proximity to God. The extracts presented here from her hour-long exegetical narrative at this meeting are transcribed from a recording made with Mrs Omid’s permission. and as eschatological in perspective. as her opening statements frequently indicate. This requires selfmastery over baser animal instincts (nafs). but a type of knowledge that helps them make sense of their daily lives.

it is acknowledged that nafs is necessary to life. Individuals must eat. Despite the high value accorded to 'aql. self-interest. Individuals should strive to check their impulses. Humans are guided by reason ('aql). while nafs is finite. What does God say are the features of the believer (mo"men)? They include the performance of namaz. reproduce and have desires.36 Many conservative jurists and ideologues who claim to that loomed large in many of Mrs Omid’s talks. Clearly. ensan. With 'aql comes piety (taqva) and faith (iman). She takes 'aql as her starting point as that which distinguishes humans (adam. while the body or nature is constructed as feminine and is primarily associated with women. But there is another aspect to the discourses on 'aql and nafs. In her view. which is highly gendered. the naturalistic assumptions about gender are deeply entrenched in the Islamic traditions. 1999. Her manner is calm and her tone serious and the women are all silent as they await her talk. see Mir-Hosseini (1996 a. faults and ignominious acts are revealed. See also Introduction. bashar) from animals (heyvan). Prominent Islamic discourses construct 'aql as masculine and associate it primarily with men. b.blurring boundaries A Dialogue between God and Adam 49 Opening the Qur"an. Only animals make up their own rules. Mrs Omid points to the first three verses of the 27th Chapter (surah an-namal) and declares that she will be pursuing the theme of piety that she began during the early afternoon of the fourth day of this ten-day jalaseh series in Safar. Najmabadi (1998). 'aql ensures salvation. but one must struggle to keep these desires in check. 2002 a). the payment of religious taxes and belief in the Day of Judgement when all secrets. or else the animal part of human nature (havay-e nafs) takes over. but to control it. The aim of religious practice is not to deny nafs.35 Although progressive Islamic scholars and feminists in Iran increasingly scrutinize conventional gender discourses. the interpretations (both Mrs Omid’s and mine) are partial and alternative perspectives are possible. 36 On the debates about gender among religious scholars and feminists in present day Iran. Mrs Omid’s stance here is very orthodox. and aim to live with a view of the life hereafter. These ideas were central to Mrs Omid’s formal teachings. and Rostami Povey (2001). . Belief in the Day of Judgement serves to remind and discipline. 35 See also the discussion on the concepts of 'aql and nafs in the Introduction. excessive desire and greed.

Nor can they act as ‘sources of emulation’ (marja'e taqlid ). rights and responsibilities. they deny women control over (ekhtyar) many aspects of their own lives. as ‘women’ they are presumed to be the major site of social disorder ( fitna). See N.50 chapter one articulate formal Islamic notions on gender argue that men and women may be equal before God. who are leading Ayatollahs who define the religious laws that shape everyday life. this obscures the ways in which gender relations may produce experiences of domination and subordination. and because of this. jurists justify laws that treat women as legal and economic dependents. 38 37 . and thus in need of control. women are deficient in faith. and Mernissi (1975: 4–10. it is their abstention from prayers and fasting during their menstrual periods. Nashat (1983: 185–186). Be on your guard even from those of them who are (reportedly) good. The legal model of gender is linked to the controversial sermon attributed to Imam 'Ali. which argues that women are deficient in both faith and intelligence. luring men away from God. As regards the deficiency in their faith. sisters and daughters.39 The sermon was delivered following an See also Wright (1978) for usages of the notion of ekhtyar. a collection of his sayings. the first Shi'i Imam. control of resources and control over women.38 In daily life. men and women have different potentials. As regards deficiency in their intelligence it is because the evidence of two women is equal to that of a man. superstitious (khorafat) or ‘innovation’. 13). deficient in shares and deficient in intelligence. It is recorded in the 78th sermon (khotbeh) of an important source book Nahj-ol-Balaqeh. 1978: 8–10). “O people. emotional and mental capacities. Do not obey them even in good things so that they may not attract you to evils” (cited in Mir-Hosseini 1999: 221). Another consequence is that men often denigrate women’s talk as gossip and dismiss their religious practice as superficial. So beware of the evils of women. Tapper (1983: 81). These issues have been amply discussed in the literature. The association of women with fitna has its literary roots in the interpretations of the Qur"anic story of Yusuf and Zulaykha (S: 12). Though valued for their nurturing and supportive roles as mothers. As for their deficiency in their shares that is because of their share in inheritance being half of men. one consequence of this discourse is that women are forbidden to hold leading posts as judges and prayer leaders. Because the idiom they use is one of complementarity between the sexes rather than inequality. Thaiss (1973: 379–382. In effect. 39 The sermon reads. the notion of 'aql has wider implications of social responsibility. but they have different physical. Arguing that women’s reasoning capacity is overruled by emotion.37 As Nancy Tapper argues (1991:15). while associating men with authority.

she also leaves us in no doubt that gender stereotypes are just that. Some commentators argue. who makes similar points regarding the Hagen gender constructs. Imam 'Ali’s book of sermons is widely regarded as “the brother of the Qur"an”. she said that she agreed with the broad interpretation. clergymen. comment on the public and the male realm as she critically assesses politicians. which indicates Mrs Omid’s (implicit) understanding that people are gendered in specific contexts. and that persons are not bound by the gender constructs. as illustrated in the following story. for example. This is not to say that her concern is with ‘men’. perhaps surprisingly. while others focus on the wording and interpret it as a broad statement about women in general (Mir-Hosseini 1996 a: 302. but rather with men’s attributes in specific contexts.40 These feminized values are held equally by men. went into battle against 'Ali. In the following passage. the Prophet’s youngest wife. (though they are often the culprits in her stories). merchants and traders alike. For a woman who shows no incapacity for reason or faith. that the sermon refers only to Ayesheh. but about the values that they supposedly represent (selfishness and irrationality). Strathern (1989: 178). this stance seems anomalous. When I asked Mrs Omid’s views on the statement. while she seemingly endorses a gender bias. Her talks also indicate that 'Ali’s statement is not so much about ‘women’ and their relations with men. The Caliph and the General Mrs Omid’s talks are spiced with frequent asides that. This sermon has been much debated. scientists. One of her concerns is the collapse of morality (ma'naviyat) in a world beset by materialistic values (maddiyat). . Although she agrees with the notion that 'aql is of a higher order than nafs. she often also implies that nafs is in fact not negative. she links the past to current concerns. 1999: 219–25). which she attributes to an absence of faith as a guiding principle.blurring boundaries 51 incident in which Ayesheh. she presents a pungent political fable based on Hadith and well designed for her listeners’ 40 See. Adroitly. Yet. with one theme leading smoothly to another.

41 . not restricted to the literate and learned. This reveals the Caliph as a fool who interpreted good attendance at the Friday prayers (namaz jom'eh). They asked. She gives her story a contemporary political resonance by using the term ‘nation’ (mellat) rather than ‘Muslim community’ (umma). The sermons (khotbeh) following the prayers are well known for their endorsement of the official state policies. which would have been appropriate to the context of the story. Mrs Omid is implicitly drawing parallels between the Friday prayer attendance at the time of Mu'aviya and the televized Friday congregational prayers held in the grounds of Tehran University since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. tudeh and khalq (Marxist and Maoist terms of the 1960’s). who according to Shi'i usurped the rightful rule of the 2nd Imam Hassan (d. He said 'aql is for worship (ebadat). It is associated with the opponents of the Shah after his reinstatement in 1953. The term mellat has an oppositional significance. but by a desire for power and control. to please God and to earn the reward of paradise (behesht). She begins by saying that politicians are guided neither by faith nor by reason. following the overthrow of the nationalist Prime Minister Mossadeq with the help of US and British intelligence. rather than as a condition of his oppressive rule. smiles and spontaneous loud choruses of salavat to convey their appreciation. But no matter how much of a monologue her talks appear to be. Her ‘listeners’ respond with laughter. they have an interactive quality. also called congregational prayers (namaz jama'at) that he led as a personal endorsement. including terms such as mardum (religiously neutral). Eickelman’s (1998: 325–326) reference to Tavakoli-Targhi’s study of the political usages of the various terms that refer to ‘people’ in the modern history of Iran.42 Mrs Omid’s simple style of talk is inclusive. her listeners rarely pose questions. what Mu'aviya had was not 'aql but repugnance (nekrah). then what about Mu'aviya? 41 Did he have 'aql? 'Ali replied. 669). If the people (mellat) had 'aql they would not have accepted evildoers and oppressors like that. When she delivers her commentaries. 42 See. Worse than him were the people he led. Then she says: They asked 'Ali what is 'aql.52 chapter one sensibilities. The sermons held in Mu"aviya (661–680) is the first Caliph of the Umaiyad dynasty (661–750). She develops the story at length through a dialogue between the Sunni Caliph Mu"aviya (ad 661–680) and an army leader called "Amr-ibn al 'As.

Mrs Omid frequently stopped in the middle of a story to make a point as a lesson or as a warning to her listeners. and her apparent dislike of politicians. Compare Thaiss’s account of men’s home-based religious meetings. who are aware of the context of the talks. and it is deeply rooted in the Qur"an itself ” (1993: 622). like the Friday congregational prayers. but continued with the act of worship non-stop. Mrs Omid developed her discussion of the relation between reason and faith. As the afternoon wore on. was not to include freedom to criticize the new regime and its doctrines. Hermit and Devil in Disguise: Stories within a Story Nothing is of any worth without 'aql. which have a covert political dimension (1973). stood before him to perform the daily prayers (namaz). Mrs Omid often said.43 True religion”. The story that investigates this theme most fully is worth quoting at length to provide the flavour and tenor of her conversational style and because of the many issues contained within the framework of a single story. even acts of worship. None the less. are well known for their political nature.” This in itself is a veiled criticism of the new brand of state authoritarianism. Her denial of political engagement is itself a veiled criticism of this situation. Harlot. See. though seemingly innocuous and pietistic. her desire to separate ‘religion’ and ‘politics’. “should not be polluted with politics (siyasat). Here she said: 43 Antoun (1989. For her audience. . that was true of the ascetic ('abed) who worshipped day and night until the devil appeared. which had been one of the rallying points of the revolution. the silences and allusions are as telling as that which is explicit. 1993) notes a total absence of political themes in his Jordanian case study. Moslem (2002). is fraught with political sensitivities. Well. social and political critiques are expressed indirectly in the jalaseh and by openly professing that one is apolitical. the notion of ‘state’ is not a uniform entity but has multiple centres of power and sources of authority with diverse understandings of social and political issues. 44 Although in the Islamic Republic the power of the ‘Council of Guardians’ (majles-e khobregan) overrides all other state institutions. where “A negative view of politics and politicking is at least one part of Muslim culture.blurring boundaries 53 mosques.44 It soon became evident that freedom of speech. In contrast.

When they got talking and she realized the purpose of his visit. The hermit set out to find the town’s prostitute in order to do likewise. food or rest. prostitutes] were easily recognizable. prostitutes] might even wear it better than us. mistaking her for one of those. mosque and the Qur"an. and since God favours those who repent. In those days. which by implication was a warning against religious hypocrisy: But my dears. my life is drowned in disgrace (nang). Then she continues with the story. People thought he has surely come to preach to her or throw her out of town. food or rest. The other day a taxi driver propositioned one of our jalaseh friends. such women [i. and also the era of the Shah. our life should not consist of prayers alone. but a person like you should not pollute himself. He climbed down his mountain retreat. Men did not bother us in the streets. between ‘us’ ‘respectable’ people and ‘them’]. he told her the story. She said: In those days [by which she means ambiguously both the time to which her story supposedly relates. There was some chuckling among the women and Mrs Omid picks up the story again: He knocked on the door and the prostitute let him in. when hejab was not compulsory].54 chapter one You see. she stopped again to address her listeners to make a point. they are mixed in with everyone else and are not distinguishable from everyone else. So he wondered who that lucky man could be who did not need to stop for water.e. the ascetic decided to ask the man how he managed to continue day and night without pause.e. At this point. the devil stood in front of the ascetic and kept on with the prayers without stopping for water. no matter who wears a veil and these women [i. went to town. only human. she told him: My dear. this time in order to relate the story to the post-revolutionary compulsory hejab. but by way of prayers. Envious. wondering why an ascetic had come to her. it was God’s will that he is now able to pray non-stop. Mrs Omid stops again. Now. But the ascetic was. The devil in disguise replied that he had illicit sex (zena) and then repented (towbeh). Even if he did manage to go through fifty rak"at [involving bending and prostrating] of prayers. Now. and asked people to direct him to her house. So. the devil will not mislead you and me with wine or illicit sex. there was a distinction [i. whereupon she replied . of which she strongly disapproves.e. even if it is true that it is the pillar of faith. he would still need to stop occasionally. She then continues with the story: Anyway. after all.

humans have needs (nafs). which her listeners would understand as a criticism of any allusions to the deficiency of women’s wisdom and faith: Now. that was the 'aql of a gentleman. The devil certainly wanted to mislead you. God gave all equally faith and 'aql. piety and abstention. a respected religious scholar told people that he had dreamed of one of the Prophets who told him that he was a friend of hers and that God forgave her past sins because she had saved the ascetic from sinning. Mrs Omid seems to advocate that 'aql should encompass nafs. that would not have been justice. she focuses on the failure of men by mocking the hermit’s wisdom. and the ascetic returned without committing the sin. Don’t you see. I tell you. in which the end justifies the means. then continued: It is said that after the woman died. If God had intended to give 'aql to some and not to others.blurring boundaries 55 that. who allegedly lures men away from God. Bynum (1987: 262) for a similar comment in another context. Mrs Omid concludes her story with an observation. but not replace 45 See. even the Prophet and our Imams had human needs. in the context of a gathering the purpose of which is to teach about piety and morality? Far from using the story as a basis for a tedious moralizing lesson to emphasize feminine sexual threat and guile. she said. food or rest could only be the devil in disguise. Women may be more prone to sin because of their guile and nafs according to exegeses of the Qur"anic story about Zulaykha (al-Yusuf S:12) that Mrs Omid discusses further below. Only then did the penny drop (dozarish oftad). Mrs Omid paused to drink some water. Their lives did not consist of prayers alone. Reason as Guide not Dictator What can we make of this witty anecdote in which an ascetic becomes the consort of a prostitute who guides him back to worship. and the other was the 'aql of the woman. whose role was worship ('ebadat). a man who prayed without stopping for water. In the beginning of the prayers (namaz) it says that God is just. . But here she implies that by comparison. His impaired judgement is juxtaposed with the moral strength and humanity of a woman. are worse. the crimes of male self-indulgence and clerical corruption.45 She thereby revalues the feminine subject. who did wrong deeds. The story’s underlying focus is the limitations of 'aql.

This spirited story reminds her audience that a turban can mislead and by implication. the preacher had to admit his mistake. But if we examine her stories in detail. Her talks are alive with stories of hypocrisy and ignorance. men may not be all worthy of intellectual respect. was going on his way when an illiterate man approached. She is not arguing against the value of 'aql. Mrs Omid’s personal life is also mined for critical material. The impaired wisdom of the hermit relates to one of Mrs Omid’s favourite subjects. ‘Now you can read it for yourself ’. acknowledging her from the pul- 46 The term ‘molla’ is a colloquial. prejudices and abuses that go under its banner in various forms. The point of her story is that reason should be a guide rather than a dictator and that tensions arise when one is valued over another in particular contexts. When she heard about this from her pupils. pejorative term for a clergyman. A story she enjoys recounting concerns the local preacher. They often feature a popular folk character called Molla Nasreddin. The Molla said he couldn’t read it either. Mrs Omid’s response was the following story: Molla Nasreddin. The man replied that he should be able to read it since he wore a turban.56 chapter one it. that of the failure of men to live up to the demands of values that they have themselves masculinized. Learning and Ignorance The notion that women have less 'aql than men not only denigrates women but highlights men’s failure as well. wearing his turban. In his next sermon. a figure who is frequently invoked as a medium for expressing social criticism.46 Once. asking him to read a letter. she continually demonstrates that people become gendered in specific contexts and as a result of particular relations. Molla Nasreddin took off his turban. On the face of it. she appears to hold conventional ideas about fixed gender. she rang him up and explained his error. but she dismisses the pretences. . who had provided incorrect information about one of the precepts during his sermon at the mosque. put it on the man’s head and said. a woman complained to Mrs Omid during a jalaseh that a clergyman had misinformed her about a particular rule. Mrs Omid’s views on gender operate on two levels.

a person who has gone on pilgrimage to Mecca. preferring the autonomy of female space in homes to the male institutes that bar women from the pulpit.blurring boundaries 57 pit. Dr. Infringing the male sphere of intellect by being informed. although this term may be used to indicate respect. even if the person addressed or referred to has not been on hajj. [Pauses briefly.. delighting her large congregations. then continues]. She draws liberally on her stock of ‘jokes’ (latifeh. ‘What did the preacher have to say’ ? This image of a husband’s wavering concentration is contrasted to Mrs Omid’s practice of going to a mosque only for funeral services. is very pious and goes to the mosque daily for namaz. shukhi) and anecdotes (hekayat). invariably presenting one thing but suggesting another.g. I asked him. Changing pace and tone in her talks (at times authoritative or didactic. One day he came back and told me that he had been counting the back cushions. chanting. including a husband and wife. narrations. relaxed and inclusive). Mrs Omid’s performance is characterized by remarkable verbal savvy and wit. anecdotes and ‘jokes’).47 as you all know. Stories about her old husband and their local mosque preacher were particularly popular and could function as a critique of the empty rhetoric. I sensed they were at odds with the more serious subtexts. Mrs Omid had won his admission that a woman can be more knowledgeable than men. I have since come to appreciate more fully the subtleties of her well-crafted talks. she had simultaneously challenged male authority and perceived views of women. Engineer) or simply by their surnames in keeping with the code of not displaying intimacy in public in cross-sex relations. looks around at her listeners. or simply mature age. recitation. censorship and dullness of the local mosque sermons: My hajj-aqa. myself included. Mrs Omid refers to her husband as Mr (aqa) and as hajji. Examples from Mrs Omid’s personal life had a special resonance among women who knew each other well. and deftly switching between different genres (sermonizing. women from traditional households often refer to their husband formally as Mr or by their titles (e. piety. Rereading the notes I took during the meetings and by listening again to the tape recordings. 47 In public. . She advised her followers to perform namaz at home instead of the mosque. at other times conversational. I could not always follow the double entendres contained in her humorous anecdotes. In this instance.

For a critical appraisal of the numerous studies on veiling. such as learned and ignorant or 'aql and nafs. 48 . See. it was widely propagandized as a preserver of public morality. “Make sure you devote a section of your notes to ‘Islamic jokes’. although on posters and less officially in graffiti.48 Paradoxically. As with stories from Hadith. who rightly says that wearing a head covering must be understood as a complex act which may generate a myriad of nuanced interpretations (1997: 13–40. The enforcement of hejab after the revolution was part of an attempt to replace markers of class difference by uniformity of dress. Thus. Mrs Omid’s aside about compulsory veiling warrants attention. Inequalities in Context In the story of “The harlot and the hermit”. noting my amusement. These licit transgressions undermine her otherwise reverential insistence on gender fixity. But elliptical humour and satire depend on shared knowledge and do not translate easily from one language to another. see Lindisfarne-Tapper. highlighting the instability of gender and a process whereby change can come about. her daughter Mariam. Mrs Omid’s repertoire of humorous asides gives her licence to be subversive and to unsettle the gendered categories. also Paidar on the use of hejab as a Revolutionary symbol of resistance to the cultural values associated with the Shah’s regime across class (1995: 214–215). jokes and anecdotes serve as tropes for re-presenting knowledge. See. also Anderson (1982). She gave the example of one of her women followers who lamented that taxi drivers could no longer distinguish between them and street walkers. Hoffmann-Ladd (1987) and White (2005). 2002). the enforcement of hejab attracted manifold forms of resistance. Mrs Omid deplored the ideological blurring of a practice that she saw as the most visible marker of respect and moral distinction (‘symbolic capital’) between her own circle of women and the secular and impious. enforced hejab now purchases respectability for those who had none. even though they are often made light of and passed off as a kind of ‘entertainment’ needed for an audience resistant to solemn and dry (khoshk) sermons (Fischer 1980: 73).” This mixture of ‘entertainment’ with sober preaching and moralizing was new to me. said.58 chapter one On one occasion.

Akhavi (1980). Further useful references see. enriched through the revolution. Momen (1985: 286–89). wide-ranging and highly complex. I must not appear with an overall and headscarf (manto-rusari) prevalent among the secular middle classes. Correctly assuming that I did not normally dress in this way. Fischer (1980). the divisions in the city space continue to exist (cf. 170). Arjomand (1988. she remarked dryly as she fanned some flies away. But despite a certain amount of mobility. Keddie & Hoogland (1986). Keddie (1981. claims to moral superiority operated as a powerful form of self-validation in the context of persisting social and economic inequalities. See. After the revolution. Mrs Omid went reluctantly ‘uptown’ to preside over meetings. has made it all the more important to insist on difference. On a rare visit north. Conversations and discussions during the jalaseh revealed a sharp contrast between the reality of their daily lives and the hopes and illusions that the women had harboured under the revolutionary maxim of ‘social justice’. The issues that led to the revolution are. between north and south Tehran. Martin (2000: xiv–xv). if I wanted to attend the jalaseh led by her. Confiscated houses and abandoned properties of the elite were handed to supporters of the revolution from the downtown areas. and. for instance.49 The failure of the revolution to use its potential to shift social boundaries effectively has been a cause of tension. but with what she called the ‘proper hejab’. even hostility. in certain contexts.blurring boundaries 59 Mrs Omid had cautioned that. “Well. she alluded to our different social circumstances and the city’s north/south divide. This consisted of the black chador and opaque black stockings. or were bought at a premium by a new class. however. . a series of populist measures were introduced to desegregate the city. 1984 a & b). which also functioned as a means of mobilizing support for the Government (Vali & Zubaida 1985: 141– 42. 1982). Hourcade 1987). Farsoun & Mashayekhi (1992). Thus. These included the establishment of urban and rural development agencies such as the ‘Reconstruction Crusade’ ( jehad-e sazandegi) and the ‘Organization for the Mobilization of the Oppressed’ (basij-e mostaz'afin). Martin (2000). The south was allocated more green and recreational spaces. and Zubaida (1993: 64–83). Najmabadi (1987). dismissive of what she regarded as a merely fashionable and superficial manifestation of piety. the flies here are the same as we have downtown!” 49 The maxim of ‘social justice’ ('edalat-e ejtema'i) is attributed to Ayatollah Khomeini as a challenge to prevailing social differences.

the paragon of male virtue and beauty. as against the middle classes. Characteristically. continuing with the theme of nafs. she turns to the Qur"anic story of Yusuf and Zulaykha (al-Yusuf S:12). “We the third class” (tabaqeh-ye se). Phrases such as. in which Mrs Omid talks about the recent development of competitive consumption among the youth as an example of what happens when nafs takes over. which she used playfully in her talks as a way of locating her standpoint. equivalent to Eve in Christianity. Malti-Douglas (1991). conjured up images of the “west-toxicated” “uptowners”. especially ‘women’ who he presumed to ‘ape’ the West. Merguerian & Najmabadi (1997). At least this is the way the male exegetes of the Qur"anic passage have generally portrayed the story in their commentaries. All provide further references. the male exegetes of this Qur"anic story have difficulty in accounting for female sexuality and desire other than 50 The term ‘west-toxicated’ (gharb-zadeh) was coined by Ale-Ahmad (1981) whose influential pre-revolutionary social criticism was directed not so much against the West. “We the ‘traditionally backward’ who wear the chador” (ommol-e chadori). 1978: 8–10). had used these negative phrases to describe women like herself. . see Mary Jacobus (1990). before the revolution. which many authors consider as having been central to gender constructs in the Muslim world. Zulaykha. 51 See. who. 13). Mernissi (1975: 4–10. Discussions of the story abound in all kinds of texts. and Thaiss (1973: 379–382.). who lures men away from God (ibid. Nashat (1983: 185–186). Then. 52 On the discursive decoupling of female sexuality from their reproductive role in Western discourses. is a woman ruled by insatiable carnal desires who fails in her attempts to seduce the young Yusuf.60 chapter one She was proud to identify herself as “downtowner”. represents female guile and carnal desire.51 Zulaykha. Malti-Douglas notes that the use of the feminine plural in the Arabic text of the Qur"anic passage transposes the seductive act of a single woman on to all women (1991: 50). This story has attracted numerous commentaries over the ages. the wife of an Egyptian Pharaoh.50 Her language of contest was rich in sardonic comments that drew variously on the city’s north-south divide. all of which seem to agree that in the biased male narratives. Yusuf and Zulaykha: The Threat of Demasculinization A brief interlude follows the story about the ascetic and the prostitute.

blurring boundaries 61 for the purpose of reproduction. Rather than condemn or dwell on Zulaykha negatively. This is similar to some Western discourses where. She implies that conflict is integral to human nature and that reason is no guarantee of perfection. Seen from this angle. as commonly suggested. thereby feminizing men by defining them as passive. Continuing with the theme of nafs. She is in effect crossing the gender boundaries that are constructed in fixed terms. onions.53 Traders and Merchants: Self-interested Market When Mrs Omid taps into popular grievances there is invariably loud agreement from the women around her. . black market prices. Malti-Douglas shows that women novelists forged narrative voices for themselves by subverting male voices. endless queues for daily necessities (bread. Zulaykha is condemned. which must be defined in the passive case. for she knows that those present know it already. but because she makes the male as the object of her desire. but by his own nafs. as Angela Carter (1979) observes. admits to being tempted. The feelings of malaise are wide-ranging. Mrs Omid tackles the story in her own way and ignores the established exegetes. in turn. they have gained authorship and authority of the written discourse (1991: 146). She mentions the story only briefly. then presents her own interpretation. washing powder. another bastion of male power. This interpretation casts a new angle on the powerful male voices of female guile that have influenced gender constructs over the ages. Pointing to the verses of the Qur"an in front of her. not by a woman’s guile. including grievances over problems of health care and housing. the continued lack of freedom of expression. she says: 53 In her discussion of modern Arabic texts. medicine and much more) and galloping inflation. not a subject that desires. the moral of the perfect woman is to be the object of desire.52 The perfect woman must be the object of desire. not simply in moral terms for her guile and nafs. she merely says that Zulaykha admits her desire for Yusuf and that he. milk. For instance. she switches to trade and business. by weaving their own narrative voices through their husband’s biographies. Zulaykha does not conform to the image of the perfect woman. the creation of a new privileged elite.

no matter how much. Mrs Omid continues: All their deeds are upside down. love of humanity (bashar dusti)—what is this organization called? [Some women call out ‘Human Rights Organization’]. When a man wants to earn his daily bread in a halal way. he couldn’t get into University. Then after a brief interlude. . politics. We go to bed at night only to find that next day what has been 30 Tuman per kilo becomes 60 Tuman. abandoned the straight path.62 chapter one It is thus that God says those who have no faith. she says. crumbling society. All that is evil seems beneficial to them. holding people’s lives to ransom with illegitimate power. All misdeeds and obscenities seem beautiful to them. does not distinguish between haram and halal and aims only to collect people’s wealth. a corrupt. Not long after he came and told his mother that it was worse than selling wine and that he couldn’t stay on in the bazaar . God rest his soul. they will say he can’t work in the bazaar and that he is incapable and worthless. Thank God. immorality. . Mrs Omid links rising prices to general social chaos. The Millennial Conclusion: The World Upside Down Mrs Omid’s final words reveal a deep sense of disillusionment with the aftermath of the revolution and register a religious sense of decline. who gives a damn about people’s lives. silence]. . the trader. they are confused and bewildered. they call all this strength (nirumandi). There was a youth. Let me tell you about goldsmiths [as a typical example of a trader who makes unwarranted gain]. thriving Islamic state: Is this civilized world of ours not bewildering? With cheating and deception. they say ‘he was a businessman with insight’. I don’t go shopping a lot but I hear that onions are now 50 Tuman per kilo. And they call it civilization. . profit gear and competitive consumerism. so for a year or two before going abroad. followed their nafs. desires and the jinn’s devils and lost sight of their goal. you all know this. the business man. strength. After he had obtained his diploma. Yes. Do we have any goldsmiths here? Are any of your husbands into gold? [Pause. all of which she attributes to the fact that nafs takes over 'aql and all in the absence of faith. the one lower. . the son of Mrs Tuba [a woman reputed for her piety]. a world turned upside down that contrasts with the construct of a successful. people like me have up till now neither bought nor sold gold. The one who cheats. My own son-in-law was a goldsmith. . he went to the bazaar and worked for a goldsmith. whose husband works in the bazaar]. you know him [looks at the hostess. He is now deceased. power and so on. they call that 'aql and insight (derayat). but he admitted that he was a goldsmith.

Love for the Mahdi and a millennial fervour is marked in the meetings. the mere mention of the ‘Mahdi’ gives rise to sobs. such as the “occultation prayer” (do'a-ye gheybat). and each time his name is mentioned. they are considered backward. first ensuring that their veils are properly in place. Sometimes. or. or advocated a return to a ‘golden age’. They advertise the English language so much. in the early years after the revolution. ‘For her health. as to the story of their place in the next world. The final fifteen minutes of the meeting are devoted again to intoned recitations relevant to the day from the prayer book (Mafatih). But when He comes. say salavat for my deceased parents. Now. They’ll even want to take something from you [laughs]. you can all see for yourself. everyone stands up. special supplications are recited. That is why we women don’t use pulpits but sit on the same level as everyone else. I don’t agree with salavat for anyone who is still alive. So what shall I learn? Learn English! They’ll pay you money for English but what will they give for the Qur"an? Nothing. and for all other parents who are deceased. Her final words are explicit: Yes. with a brief dirge (zekr-e mosibat). Now let’s see where this road that they have chosen to follow will lead them to. as on this occasion. If someone wants to learn the Qur"an. the eve of the Mahdi’s expected day of reappearance. a meeting can be extended with either joyful eulogistic mowludi poems. really! Come and learn English. No. they will say what use is it to you. insha’allah tomorrow. Depending on whether it is a calendar occasion of joy ( jashn) or of sorrow ('azadari). If someone wants to pay heed to their religion (din). For instance. why? It is because it pays money and in this society. or tell you to ride a donkey and not use an aeroplane! This aside makes simultaneous mockery of those who. salavat!’ But Mrs Omid stops them. on Thursdays. . all human ugliness will be converted to embellishment [pointing to the verses of the Qur"an]. especially if Mrs Omid’s talk has been particularly effective. I don’t consider myself above anyone else. consistent with her disapproval of the practice of using salavat for political leaders: No. to hasten his reappearance. either dismissed Islam as backward. accompanied by ritualized weeping by some of the women present.blurring boundaries She concludes on a millennial note: 63 Insha"allah the Lord of the Ages will come and set things right. people want money. it is not in order to tell people to prepare our kerosene lamps if they want to use electricity. A loud chorus of triple salavat follows as one among the listeners prompts everyone to a further round of salavat by saying. which Mrs Omid chants. If you insist. Thus.

As sites of contest. ask for personal advice or to interpret a dream. or. Mrs Omid’s petitions always include a plea for the Mahdi’s reappearance.54 It is about “contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes. Feminist theorists detect a special affinity between women and irony as a strategic means of questioning established 54 I thank Tanya Harrod for permission to cite from her conference talk. or. grant health and happiness for everyone and the dead spirits.64 chapter one The meetings end formally with a series of supplications (do'a) in Persian by Mrs Omid. and take pleasure in destabilizing categorical gender. ‘Guide us in the right path. but some go to Mrs Omid before she leaves to hand over their religious taxes. the ill. ‘The rightful return of Jerusalem to Muslims’. bring justice’. ‘Lord of the Ages appear soon. but they are neither simply private nor domestic. in which everyone joins in a loud chorus. the importance of women’s jalaseh far exceeds their modest domestic appearance. even dialectically. These meetings are all female. Mrs Omid’s novel interpretations of gender are suggestive rather than assertive. This (perhaps at times deliberately) multi-vocal and polysemic quality of feminine performance allows open-ended interpretation and enables her listeners to create their own reality. exchange politically charged ‘Islamic jokes’. next Friday’. These concluding supplications often show the special concern of the preacher or a participant known to her. which she concludes with a further string of salavat dedicated to ‘our Leader’. Most of the participants leave promptly after refreshments. because it deals with serious issues in a humorous way (Harrod 2003). ‘Destroy the enemies of Islam’. about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true” (Haraway 1990: 190–191). Composite Selves and Multiple Perspectives Irony demands a kind of amused detachment on the part of the ironist. petitioning God with requests such as. ‘God strengthen our faith so that we do not doubt His return’. They are spaces in which women explore the religious texts. for instance. . forgive our sins. Some preachers include petitions requesting. ‘The release of prisoners of war/ political prisoners’. help the unfortunate.

whereby dominant categories are challenged as well as endorsed by reference to a fixed relationship of difference between women and men (Moore 1994: 60–61). a woman is legally forbidden to act as a prayer-leader ( pish-namaz). During a meeting some women asked Mrs Omid to lead them in prayer.blurring boundaries 65 ideas.56 She herself is respected as a just arbitrator in family disputes in her neighbourhoods. but at the same time appropriate and redefine these in specific contexts. It is the very context that defines the gender norms. Kapchan (1996: 96–97) for a good example of irony in the speech genre of market women in Morocco. which are then blurred with irony. Irony does not merely ‘express’ or ‘represent’ alternative realities. because women are not considered to be just ('adel). but is itself a way of constituting them in the context of relations of unequal power. is ironic in itself. It suggests their arbitrary nature and hence other possibilities. I am a woman like you. I sew. It suggests the existence of alternative notions of gender within the same context. This is similar to what Mary Douglas (1991: 107–108) says of humour as an ‘anti-rite’. 56 Some schools of Islamic law permit women to act as prayer-leaders if the congregation is female (Mahmood 2005: 87). Here we have a play with ideas of justice as defined by the male legal discourse and by women’s interpretation and experience of it in interaction. pointing See. A final example demonstrates this point particularly well. In effect. How is one to understand Mrs Omid’s simultaneous engagement with the prominent cultural models of gender and with a range of other versions of her experience?57 Feminist scholars have not always been willing to embrace postmodernist notions of the subject. The public engagement with the gender ideals in the jalaseh. moreover. 55 . Mrs Omid demonstrates what one must ‘do’ to be a woman. I’m not just. then try me out by finding my husband a co-wife. Mrs Omid says that in Iran. a setting that is both religious and female. with elements of subversion. rather than what one is and therefore does. use of paradoxes and dissonance as an elegant way of positing alternatives. yet she says jestingly: Don’t you see. if you don’t believe me. I knit and I cook. 57 See also Abu-Lughod (1986) on the ways in which women comply with gender ideologies.55 Mrs Omid’s abundant use of irony questions (inadvertently or not) the contradictions in the values she has learned to cherish.

migrant and some religious middle class neighbourhoods of Tehran to assess the women’s notions of self and morality. This then cannot be a study of overt subversion or rebellion against received gender roles and notions. Hollway suggests that a “vested interest” in being for instance a good mother or wife explains why an individual takes up one subject position. but it is not always a matter of unrestrained. 60 The Persian is: gahi ba khoda/gahi ba rasul/gahi ba ada/gahi ba osul. She is both subject and object. moulded by the very discourses she constantly redefines in her performances. For instance. . based on 286 interviews among women of primarily working class. The irony here is that she is herself a working wife and mother occupying a typically male role as preacher. In a culture that defines strict gender norms. but not necessarily sociologically. and would only operate to benefit men. Interestingly. she questions claims that women would be liberated through work when work conditions are exploitative. Boddy (1989: 345–347) on the creative play between compliance and resistance. concluding that. Her compliance constitutes a “cultivated desire” shaped by a non-liberal tradition (Mahmood 2001: 203). 59 See also. strategic choice or agreement. Her faith helps preserve her dignity. Mrs Omid is similarly suspicious. The ambivalence and contradictions in her talks and her person is consequent on the tensions inherent in her attempts to adhere to the categorical expectations.66 chapter one to the need to account for it politically. She conducted a large scale survey conducted in 1977–78.59 A pious woman at one meeting I attended neatly expresses the idea in witty verse: At At At At times times times times according according according according to to to to God the Prophet manner logic60 58 The problem can be summarized using the words of Rosi Braidotti about the supposed death of the Enlightenment subject: “In order to announce the death of the subject. Janet Bauer’s (1985) findings are similar. “their abstract moral thinking sometimes focused on principles of individual rights and sometimes on responsibilities. She says that the freedom to work outside the home is no ‘freedom’ in the absence of legal and political rights for women. sometimes women agreed with interpretations of Islamic prescriptions and sometimes they didn’t” (1985: 127). one must first have gained the right to speak as one” (1987: 237). rather than another (1984: 238 cited in Moore 1994: 64).58 They argue that we may control our own bodies and unsettle boundaries phenomenologically. compliance may a sensible course.

wives. . sisters. daughters or working women. But the different social positions they hold give rise to multiple perspectives and provide the possibility of contest and change.blurring boundaries 67 As mothers. They maintain their sense of self by making connections across different contexts. persons are composed of different experiences and relationships (Strathern 1988).

Zeynab is the Prophet’s granddaughter and sister of Imam Husseyn and is widely renowned for having healing powers. Arabic) popularity for miraculous cures among the Sunni Muslims in Egypt. She opened up to the public once a week. which projects Zeynab’s image as 1 For Zeynab’s (al-Sayyida Zaynab. recounting Zeynab’s lonely struggle to protect the orphans and widows after the martyrdom of her brother Husseyn (AD 680). Her empathy with those in distress is amplified in the Karbala narratives that are chanted in dirge rituals (rowzeh) throughout the year. who act as intermediaries between women and the supernatural. practised traditionally between a lay healer and a patient. the wealthier north as well as the south. All come to make vows (nazr kardan) to Zeynab with Mrs Sabri’s help. and with word spreading rapidly.2 Stories about Zeynab’s miraculous cures abound. . see Abu-Zahra (1997). Now. dedicating it to the saint Zeynab. Willy Jansen’s (1997) study of female religious agents in Algeria called faqîrât. where she is held in high esteem. The women are in desperate need and come from a cross section of society from all over the city. She acts as an intermediary with prayers and supplications to the saint to grant them relief from suffering or pain.1 Mrs Sabri called her practice “Zeynab’s House of Cure” (dar-ol-shafa-ye maktab-e Zeynab). or simply “Zeynabiyeh”. by turning it into a lucrative collective healing ritual based in her home. She has reinvented the dying art of ‘prayer healing’ (do'a darmani). In the early years after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. circulating by word of mouth. the popularity of her practice grew. This story is the subject of a newly scripted passion play (called ta'ziyeh-ye kharabiyeh Sham). hundreds of women queue in front of her house each Wednesday from early in the morning when she opens her doors. she converted her house in south Tehran into a healing centre. 2 Cf.CHAPTER TWO WOMEN’S CARING LABOUR OFFICIAL TEXTS AND THEIR DEPLOYMENT IN CONTEXT Mrs Sabri is an enterprising innovator.

In the early stages of the Islamic Republic during the war with Iraq (1980–88).women’s caring labour 69 care giver in a dramatically forceful way. when Zeynab looked after the women and children in a forlorn ruin outside the gates of Damascus. articulate and highly politicized. and even to encourage women’s own participation in armed defence because of extreme need. to economize and avoid unnecessary consumption. rebellious. A survey conducted by a women’s magazine (Zan-e Ruz 19/09/81) states that women were encouraged to boost the morale of husbands and sons about to go to the front. At the time. with one woman bringing her crippled son who it was claimed had been miraculously cured by the end of the show. 218–219). Paidar (1995: 216. ensuring that the actors were seyyed (descendants from the Prophet) and asking the audience to applaud with ritual greetings (salavat) instead of clapping. means ‘the passion play of the ruins of Sham (Damascus)’ and refers to a story on the night after the martyrdom of Imam Husseyn. Fischer (1978: 196 n.4 The contrasting images of Zeynab have served the state policies for gender relations and women’s roles ever since the Revolution of 1978–79. moving the audience to tears. where she valiantly defended the line of the Prophet. The performance had been very popular. 3 . Many of them had come to make a vow. assertive. I did not see the play. 4 Cf. to nurse the wounded and to participate in relief operations behind the front line (Paidar 1995: 216–19. especially for cures. to raise valiant sons prepared to be martyrs of their faith.3 The play was staged for the first time in 1992 by an all-female cast at a state-funded women’s cultural institute in south Tehran. a widely publicized Ta'ziyeh-ye kharabi-ye Sham. like any passion play. Pinault (1992: 5) and Sullivan (1998: 221). but were also asked to preserve unity by refraining from harmful rumours against the war. to raise awareness among school children. Zeynab’s heroic image was promoted to encourage women to act as responsible citizens in the absence of men. but had the opportunity to talk to the young female director of the play. See also Chapter 5 under ta'ziyeh. 14). 305–07). A familiar story I heard the women tell was of Zeynab carrying Husseyn’s flag and delivering a defiant political speech in a mosque. Zeynab’s image as care giver and healer can be set against alternative stories that present her as militant. She told me that they treated the performance as sacred.

she turned her attention to religion and began studying at the Faculty of Theology. she agreed to meet me there but warned me not to mention this visit to her aunt or to Mrs Omid who disapproves strongly of Mrs Sabri’s work. he became a member of the revolutionary council in 1979. morad ) in return for an 5 The idea is based on texts by key religious scholars like Motahhari (1978). She is in her late twenties. who were recruited for military defence. were now recruited to serve as ‘vice squads’. Nuri planned to go to the Zeynabiyeh the following week to make a vow on behalf of one of her friends who was too ill to go. but I met her downtown in her aunt’s house at a jalaseh over which Mrs Omid presided. . Before undergoing surgery. She did not consider herself to be particularly religious. Nuri lives in an affluent part of north Tehran. designed to control women’s conduct and dress at home in the public sphere. At the same time. These bear the image of a white clad woman with a wimple (maqna'eh) providing care for a wounded male soldier. calling the votive procedure she employs as un-Islamic (bed 'at) and exploitative. has a degree in psychology and is married with two children. Zeynab’s birthday was marked as “Nurses’ Day” on posters and postage stamps (Chelkowski 2005:130). ‘Zeynab’s Sisters’. although her aunt claimed it was due to the prayers recited by the women for her health during the jalaseh. there was no space for feminine courage and defiance and Zeynab’s assertive image had to be recast. After the war. she visited Zeynabiyeh regularly and attributes the cure to the vows she made to Zeynab with Mrs Sabri’s help. but prayers gave her peace of mind and strength to endure her illness. in effect re-domesticizing them. with the aim of producing submissive women.70 chapter two image on posters and news media was an army of marching women called ‘Zeynab’s Sisters’. After the revolution. Zeynab’s image was redefined in line with the idea of motherhood as the most profound responsibility of women enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. but was assassinated in May that year (Mir-Hosseini 1999: 24). Seeing my interest. Nuri told me that following a miraculous recovery from an apparently terminal cancer. wearing a black chador with rifles in hand.5 With the devout fighters returning from the battlefront. who taught both in religious schools in Qom and at universities in Tehran. Vowing is a conditional agreement whereby a person asks a saint to intercede with God for a favour (hajat. I heard about Mrs Sabri’s Zeynabiyeh from Nuri.

Mrs Omid never negotiates over fees because it is considered demeaning and leaves payment to individual discretion. Mrs Sabri’s work demonstrates the vulnerability of the state to women’s innovations in the face of challenge from the ground. But Mrs Sabri claims the votive offering for herself in cash in return for her services as an intermediary with the saint. It is for these reasons that Mrs Omid considers Mrs Sabri’s work as opportunistic and exploitative of people’s distress. . taking half up front and the rest after the request is granted. The term collusion suggests that this is not simply a case of exploitation and oppression from above. helped by the strategic collusion of an individual woman with the authorities of state. Scholars analyzing the relationship of gender and state suggest that the state is forced to take notice of women’s grass root activities and despite being seen as inconsequential to social politics.women’s caring labour 71 offering (nazri) specified in advance. people undertake to perform a charitable deed (such as distributing alms to the poor) or a religious task (such as fasting). they are instrumental in shaping and enforcing state policies (Baron 2005 b: 86). It is generally accepted that spiritual work should be outside the realm of the market. women are driven to engage with social politics due to the government’s neglect of healthcare provisions. women’s voluntary social welfare work was not necessarily a means to politics. They do this by professionalising their home space at the very time when the home and the family are hailed as the central responsibility of women. but takes the shape of a negotiation.6 Arguably. Rather. she specifies a sum equivalent to the fee for a visit to a physician. the latter being particularly popular among women (see Chapter Four). Those who specify fees are targets for criticism and compromise their reputation. or to share a votive meal (sofreh-ye nazri) after the favour is granted. Instead of relying on the discretion of the supplicant. 6 Beth Baron (2005 a & b) suggests that in Egypt in the 1940’s. But Mrs Sabri’s role as an intermediary between women and the saint Zeynab warrants attention. It is a particularly good example of how religious healing is legitimized culturally in support of the political economy. Most commonly. Even while the state may coopt popular belief for its own ends. they turned to social welfare work when pushed out of nationalist politics. in the context of a healing ritual such as Mrs Sabri’s.

petitioning Imam Husseyn and Fatemeh. I could not find . which she later sprays over us from time to time as the meeting proceeds. wearing a house tunic. a triangular black flag with “Zeynab’s House of Cure” stitched in green and five large framed pieces. Ayatollah Khomeini and Mr Khameneh"i. Hosseyn. It seems to have been recorded during a recent pilgrimage tour she led to Medina. A recording of Mrs Sabri’s chanting voice. which Mrs Sabri later uses. there is an armchair. The italics are verbatim translations from my tape recordings. accompanied by loud chorus of refrains fills the room. Bring me close to God. I enter a large sitting room scented with rosewater. 7 a. One of the frames holds a black cloth with the names of the Prophet and his household (‘Five Bodies’. known also as Zahra. 1413 AHQ/9 December 1992 Soon after my arrival just before seven in the morning. On the wall behind the armchair are two bunches of wild rue (esfand) to dispel the ‘evil eye’. Today we are in Medina.72 chapter two What follows is a close translation of my field notes from one of the two sessions I attended at Zeynabiyeh. She sees that I am taking notes but pays no attention.m. a flat woven rug). with a marble table. I took notes as the ritual was in progress and present these here in translation with some editing and a few added comments. heal your ill/patients (mariz). hoarse with tears. At the top end of the room. other women begin to arrive. microphone and three decanters of rosewater. Green back-cushions line the walls (green is the colour of the Prophet). single storey brick building. the leader of the Islamic Republic. The floor is carpeted with a lower grade Kelim (gelim. The front door opens into a courtyard that leads into a flat roofed. A Prayer-Healing Session Field note extracts: Zeynabiyeh: 14 Jamadi II. switches on a tape recorder to a high volume and disappears to the back of her house. panjtan). to aid Zeynab in her caring mission. Mrs Sabri appears briefly from the back of her house without a headscarf. a silver quarter-moon with a star. the next one has Qur"anic inscriptions and prominently displayed above all these are three portraits of Imam 'Ali. I saw how people mourned at Imam Hosseyn’s grave.

As soon as they sit down. dear Zeynab I am your slave Zeynab dear Oh my Zeynab. Zahra).m. pain) You know of Zeynab’s patients You know of her Wednesdays (the days people come to Zeynabiyeh) Tonight I want to obtain favours (hajat) These letters people have written to me I have promised so many that I would obtain favours for them Oh Zahra! Oh Zeynab! I plead on the life of your mother Zahra (tu ra be jan-e madarat) Don’t let me go away from here empty handed I have ill people dear Zahra I want a cure.10 a. you know my heartache (dard-e delam. dear Zeynab I sacrifice myself for you Zeynab dear I am crazy (majnun) with love for you Zeynab dear Grant our favours.e. they begin to sob as they listen to the tape that continues as follows. my Zeynab. grief. Zahra. The chorus of refrains following this appeal is as follows: I will knock on this door until I see Oh Zeynab! Oh Zeynab! (ya Zeynab ya Zeynab) Oh Zahra! Oh Zahra! Zahra-dear cure Zeynab’s patients Oh Zahra! Oh Zeynab! 7. so that the precise date of her death and place of burial remain unknown. I have brought you the patients of Zeynab and their messages to you. Fatemeh’s burial by her husband 'Ali was clandestine. misfortune. .women’s caring labour 73 Zahra’s grave. Zahra dear. give cure Cure those with cancer Such petitions are followed on the tape by a chorus of: Oh Zeynab.: More women arrive. Dear lady (i. give cure! Fulfil your promise/oath/vow 7 It is said that due to the political exigencies of the time. Zeynab dear I plead on your mother’s life Oh Zeynab Zeynab. Where is it? Oh (ya) Zahra. I sacrifice myself (qorbun-e) for your pains.7 I yearn to find your grave.

everyone stands up in respect. half as down payment and the rest after obtaining their cure. The woman next to me whispers enviously. Mrs Sabri records a statement by them on tape saying that they have been cured. hand some money over to an assistant and say.35 a. The tape continues.e. the free market exchange rate was about 250 Toman to £ 1.9 I could under- 8 This is a reference to the story of Fatemeh’s injury when the Sunni Caliph 'Omar (AD 634–644) stormed her house. Once. A few women go up and embrace her. Lucky them!” I ask her why the women are giving money. She uses this as proof to unbelievers and those who accuse her of fraud. When they return. She says. when I was here. some of whom greet each other briefly on arrival. There are always collections for charity (sadaqeh) or for the Red Crescent (helal-e "ahmar) and people donate liberally. She has changed into a bright blue suit and now wears a white headscarf. Oh Zahra I am helpless searching for you Oh for this sorrow (gham) Oh people who are in love ('asheqan) I have lost a young flower (i. 7. but including several younger women. They make a vow to pay Mrs Sabri some money.30 a. nodding to the women who greet her.74 chapter two More women arrive. Fatemeh) I have a broken side (pahlu-shekasteh)8 The unfortunate (gereftar-ha) have come to your doorstep Zeynab dear 7. I note that the four hundred Toman that Mrs Sabri demands is about the same as the fee for a visit to a physician. There is still space on the floor by the walls but they forgo the comfort of leaning against the back-cushions and choose to sit in the middle of the room immediately in front of Mrs Sabri’s table.m. Mrs Sabri re-enters. .: There are now twenty-five mostly middle-aged and older women. telling them bluntly that they should mind their own business. Mrs Sabri responded angrily to those who questioned what she did with the collections. “May your pilgrimage be accepted” (ziyarat qabul ). People come here with the intent (niyyat) to be cured. Mrs Sabri demands a minimum of four hundred Toman. Some women take a visitation-prayerbook (ziyaratnameh-ye Zeynab) from a pile on Mrs Sabri’s table. Mecca and Medina. I do not know where Zahra’s grave is I do not know where to go Call out: Oh Zahra.m. As she moves to her seat. “Some people can go to Syria. 9 In 1992–1993.

but there is no free space for her to sit beside me and she moves on. Her eyes are already tearful. But Mrs Sabri’s clients hand over the cash voluntarily and although her work is grounded in a monetary transaction.000 Toman). Some women converse.m. whereupon she decided to come and make a vow for her cure. the medical tests had shown that her daughter-in-law was cured. . The conversation around me is loud and I cannot hear what the woman says clearly. then for her son who. and then another for her second son. thereby distancing herself from its demeaning effect. but by my estimate. 000 Toman (£ 80/US$ 120). whereas the average monthly income of a lower level employee (bank clerk. Mrs Sabri turns the tape recorder off. who is nearer. 8 a. which she had lent in good faith. she had her money back. is far away abroad. Mr Khameneh'i! And another for Mr. a relatively popular preacher down town could earn about 30. A loud chorus of salavat follows for each. she lets her assistant collect the cash. Nuri has now arrived. she says. It was difficult to ask what a preacher earned. The sitting room fills rapidly. but she knew one woman who came to recover a large debt (700. By the time of her second visit to Zeynabiyeh. She lives nearby and came first because of her daughter-in-law who suffered from a severe ulcer. pausing each time until the greeting chorus stops: For all the ill! For the unfortunate! For those who are seeking intercession! For those who have no children and for whom we wish twins! For the leader of the Republic. Most people came for cures. primary school teacher) was about 20. Someone prompts a loud salavat in her honour.45 a.500 Toman if she could recover the money and on her second visit here.m. She made a vow to pay Mrs Sabri 2. and finally for all those suffering from illness (mariz-ha) and misfortune (gereftar-ha). Mrs Sabri records on tape the story of a woman who comes to her table and uses the microphone to relate how her favour was granted. The tape continues at high volume with similar chants. Rafsanjani! and 165 Toman to US$ 1. while others listen with tearful eyes.women’s caring labour 75 stand why it might seem parasitic on the sick and poor to demand cash in a setting where religious values and ideals should prevail. She dreamed that Zeynab touched her daughter-in-law’s stomach. 000 Toman per month (£ 120/US$ 180). The woman next to me relates why she came to Zeynabiyeh. I can count about eighty women. Mrs Sabri prompts everyone over the microphone to utter rounds of salavat for each of the following. but in conclusion. 7.

she must create and continually reinforce an attitude of trust. because you are an intermediary (rabet). She intersperses her rowzeh in a tearful voice with statements that her motives are not selfish. This time. especially those who are jealous and envy us. moving many of the women to sob loudly. to my amazement. “Oh Zeynab! Oh Zeynab!” A loud chorus of wailing voices beseeching Zeynab follows. I am a nobody. “Let us pray for our friends. Her modesty seems to strike an emotive chord.10 a. Mrs Sabri tells her to declare the fulfilled vow over the microphone. then switches back to Persian and chants a dirge (rowzeh). the medical tests showed that surgery was no longer required.” People continue to come and we move closer to make room. Mrs Sabri is taping the proceedings She concludes these rounds with another final prompt. but ask God to destroy our enemies. Many women sob and weep quietly. I am merely a messenger (qased). and I said no.m. It occurred to me that the unsteady basis of her reputation made it necessary to constantly reassert her credentials. She stresses that she makes no claims to the kind of medium the saints possess and demotes herself to being a mere vessel. backed up by Mrs Sabri chanting. The woman says that doctors had told her that her little daughter had to undergo difficult surgery. including many young ones with headscarves and overalls instead of the more traditional chador. A woman approaches Mrs Sabri and gives her a wrapped present in fulfilment of her vow.” People are still arriving and there are now at least one hundred women. She continues. adding various other accounts like the following: The other week Mrs Mo"meni (a renowned preacher) said to me that these Wednesdays must not be stopped. prompting everyone to cry out.” The presence of the sister of a government minister suggests at the very least tacit support for Mrs Sabri at the highest levels. To be acceptable and to be heard. thereby deflecting criticism. that her actions are effective in bringing about desirable ends. 8. “I will call for you so often until you help me get my reward (ajr) from God. she says: “An extra loud salavat for the sister of our minister of health who is present and seated here on a chair beside me. Mrs Sabri recites from the Qur"an in fluent Arabic as more people arrive. Mrs Sabri apologises that new arrivals have to sit . Mrs Sabri skilfully keeps up the momentum. but after she made the vow.76 chapter two A loud chorus of salavat follows at each prompt. One woman complains to the person in front of her that she takes up too much space.

including several names of men. She capitalizes on the amplified stories of success. Mrs Sabri now reads out a list of names. Mrs Sabri.women’s caring labour 77 in the cold courtyard for lack of space indoors. She in turn asks each of them to make a statement over the microphone about their request or its fulfilment. Another says that she came to know of Zeynabiyeh through her dream. ‘Zeynab’s burnt liver’) by Musa-ibn-e Ja'far by the ill of Karbala by the King of home/country by the broken side of her mother (Fatemeh’s injured side) cure them by the justice of Mohammad by the justice of 'Ali As soon as Mrs Sabri mentions the name of Musa-ibn-Ja'far (the seventh Imam). which she records on tape. “God forbid. which her assistant collects. I thought this was supposed to be dedicated to Zeynab and not him. by Zeynab’s pains (be jegar-e sukhte-ye Zeynab. Meanwhile. Mrs Sabri continues chanting but stops briefly to allow a woman recount a recent dream. Meanwhile other women queue to reach Mrs Sabri to hand money to her assistant. cure from infertility and resolution of marital problem. Be they paralyzed (zamingir) and imprisoned in their own homes. an old woman sitting on my other side exclaims. some more women try to make their way to the front to hand Mrs Sabri money.” My neighbour whispers. in which a woman . exclaims. but also other requests. Let God cure them grant them their wish (morad) by the great Zeynab. One woman says that she came only a week ago on behalf of her sister who had numerous problems (she does not elaborate) and now her problems are already resolved. including early marriage for a youth. taking this as an auspicious sign and as proof of her own good intentions. mostly cures for illness and disease. “Oh God. what next !” She seems quite critical of Mrs Sabri and I wonder why she has come. in which Mrs Sabri was cooking a votive soup (ash-e nazri) in this room. After each name she chants loudly. who had phoned her for favours. by the water bearer (saqi) of Kowsar (a river in Paradise).” Here is another woman who seems to question Mrs Sabri’s authority. bring misfortune to those who are Zeynab’s enemies and ours. “I don’t understand.

e. who then reads them out. Mrs Sabri taps on her microphone. with accompanying phrases such as: “May God reward her (i. I ask if she can tell me what she wrote. A young woman close to me. The calls are for making vows. saying she is reading out supplications (do"a) concerning people with misfortune and that those present should keep quiet and not disrupt the gathering. and that her request was granted only after she had come here. The level of conversation is beginning to rise. Mrs Sabri). Some women hand down written messages for Mrs Sabri. naming the person concerned and their request. but shortly afterwards she says that one woman had waited ten years in vain for the fulfilment of a vow she made on her own. Mrs Sabri complains. adding that she is not doing this for money and that only those who really believed in her pure intent should make a down payment for their vow. The conversation does not abate. She continues to read out people’s names and the vows made followed by chants in which she pleads for fulfilment of their vows. complains loudly that her message is not among those read out.” I doubt that Mrs Sabri overheard this complaint. People donate liberally. gently beating their chests to the rhythm of the chant. Meanwhile the phone in front of Mrs Sabri has rung several times. “I wrote that I made a vow a long time ago and paid the first part. At this stage. which Mrs Sabri relays over her microphone. The conversation subsides. She says she has arranged a bus tour for pilgrimage to the . She tries to regain the attention of her audience by repeating the story of the woman who was directed to this house through a dream.” (ajresh ba khoda) and the bags fill rapidly with money. She says. telling her that she must come here to get a cure for a neighbour’s child with heart disease. She says some are long distance calls from Iranians living in Europe and in the US. followed by chanting a supplication to Zeynab to grant their wishes. everyone joins in saying Allah-o-Akbar in unison. and each time. My neighbour says that the collections are for the Red Crescent and that Mrs Sabri gains much spiritual merit (savab kardan) for making these collections possible. but my request has not yet been granted. who also handed a message over.78 chapter two gave her the directions. She says she wants to make an announcement. Her tactic works. two women climb over the seated women to make collections of alms dedicated to the ‘Lord of the Ages’ (sadaqeh-ye Imam-e Zaman).

so that he completes his studies successfully. 9 a. to transform. she talks about hejab. to improve! Praise to Khomeini! At another point. starting with the following rhetorical question: Why do women go to ‘religious gatherings’ (majles-ha-ye dini va mazhabi)? Of course it is to purify your sins. she replies. She hopes that ‘all enemies of Islam will be destroyed’. saying that wearing a headscarf and overalls (worn by many of those present) is just as good as wearing a chador. people do not come here for a simple headache and cold.women’s caring labour 79 shrine in Qom for the following Monday and those who wish to go must pay 250 Toman. but the most important is not to miss the daily prayers (namaz). her son does not study. By my estimate there are now at least two hundred women here. Some of the women accompany her by gently beating their chest to the rhythm of her chant: “Dear Zeynab. After a while. in between chants. She then says that she herself had obtained her favour merely by dreaming that she had come here. Many are sitting in the cold courtyard. They all come to your doorstep.m. Then she makes a series of statements. Two women serve them tea. She has now made a vow to come here every week.” (God’s Messenger. She attributes this misfortune to peoples’ envy of him having gained university entrance. but Mrs Sabri ignores them and continues to chant. ‘money is dirty . but for illnesses which doctors cannot cure. which will include a simple lunch. that those who are envious and spread malicious gossip behind her back ‘should have their hand severed’ and persists in denying any interest of a crude monetary kind by repeating that. The women continue to converse. but although her wish was granted. I am told they have made vows to supply and serve the tea at these Wednesday gatherings. the Prophet) I turn to one of the women and ask if she knows when Mrs Sabri began all this. which she expresses as “nazar zadan” (often called cheshm-e bad. More women arrive but some are leaving. Five years ago. Mrs Sabri continues her appeals to Zeynab. then takes a rest and puts on the tape I heard when I arrived. Ya Zeynab! Heal them!” A chorus follows: “Ya Zeynab! Ya Zeynab! Ya Rasul-allah. even if it is for only ten minutes. she begins to give a moral lesson. She had made a vow for her son to get into the university. ‘evil eye’).


chapter two

and of no use’. Meanwhile, some women still go up to give money to her assistant and add their name to a list for the down payments. 9.30 a.m. The woman next to me says that this is how the whole morning proceeds until people gradually leave toward midday. I left soon after 10.00 a.m.

Illness as Metaphor Through the idiom of illness, people make statements about their experience in the world. The idea of illness as a metaphor for social relations embedded in a political economy is now a widely accepted concept among social scientists.10 Byron Good’s (1977) influential essay on the use of metaphors of illness in a small town in Iran shows how complaints of what is described as ‘heart distress’ take on various meanings, depending on the social and political changes. Similarly, scholars studying embodiment note that distress is felt in the body when there is disruption in the social order (Csordas 1994 a, b). Following the revolution of 1978–79, the problems in the structure of the health care system increased manifestly and particularly affected women and children (Keddie 2003: 287). Rastegar’s (1995) comparative analysis of the healthcare system in the pre- and postrevolutionary era describes these changes in detail. He states that the government of the Islamic Republic decided to centralize and politicize the educational system for the training of medical doctors. The aim was to remedy problems of the healthcare system. These included a shortage of trained personnel, antiquated facilities, a lack of emphasis on preventive care, high infant mortality, short life expectancy, as well as the disparities in the private, public, urban and rural health care provisions. However, political loyalty became more important in this ‘cultural revolution’ than objective academic criteria and competence in the selection of faculty and students. The result was the migration of highly qualified physicians purged from universities (see also Keddie 2003: 290). Despite a rapid increase in
10 The concept was coined by Susan Sontag (1977). B. Turner (1996: 175 ff.) suggests that to approach disease sociologically, we have to combine the notions that 1) disease is a language 2) the body is representation 3) medicine is a political practice (1996: 202).

women’s caring labour


the number of medical schools, inadequate equipment and experienced teachers resulted not only in lowering of academic standards, but also in a collapse of the medical system. Significant developments are reported in healthcare provision in more recent years.11 But at almost all the women’s rituals that I attended in 1992–93, not a single day went by without complaints about the failings of the medical system and dissatisfaction with the healthcare provisions. The list included the high cost of seeking proper treatment only affordable by the affluent, the lucrative black market for medicine caused by economic sanctions that enforced sacrifices, condemning household members to a hand-to-mouth existence, the tense relationship with medical practitioners and the frustration with inconsistent advice given by a glut of poorly trained physicians. These were predominantly men who often treated women patients in condescending, paternalistic and authoritarian ways, dismissing expressions of concern as ignorance or emotionality. Factors such as these deeply affect a patient’s sense of self-worth. Added to the poor state of healthcare was a wider desperate situation, revealed by the women’s requests made through their vows to Zeynab and other saints. These included recovery of debts, gaining university entrance for teenage children, resolution of marital disputes, release from prison, not to mention forms of ‘domestic’ violence that were borne in silence (sexual abuse, rape, incest, wife-beating, drug addiction), because their disclosure other than to a saint would be too scandalous. A popular refrain of a dirge for Fatemeh (Zahra) composed by women and frequently chanted in their gatherings is, “My Zahra, My Zahra, Oh my keeper of secrets.”12 The idioms they used to express their problems confirms that suffering is not confined to physiological illness or disease (marizi), but included a variety of problems that they experienced as traumatic and causing distress. The expressions commonly used by the women can be translated as suffering, affliction, burden, misfortune, distress and heartache (narahati, gereftari, bala, badbakhti, mosibat, dard-e-del), all of which index a

Between 1985 and 1997, the reported achievements in healthcare provisions include training and education, in both rural and urban areas, in particular the creation of grassroots primary healthcare networks; as a result, maternal mortality rates, for example, dropped dramatically from 140 to 37 per 100,000 live births (Keddie 2003: 287). 12 Zahra-ye man, Zahra-ye man, 'ey raz negah dar-e man.



chapter two

wider, social malaise or crisis. The Persian language does not distinguish between ‘disease’ (as a bio-medical state) and ‘illness’ (as a chronic, socially related problem), both of which are expressed as marizi. Most social scientists agree that ‘disease’ and ‘illness’ are related and that a preoccupation with the state of the body can be an index of distress and social disorder or malaise. The feeling among the women that nobody cares for them apart from the saints is all-pervasive. A mistrust of physicians extends to ignoring their orders. One of my jalaseh companions had a severe heart problem. When I visited her in hospital, she looked up at me from her bed and said, “My real doctor is Imam Reza.” Despite warnings from the consultant to remain in hospital, she left the following day for her annual pilgrimage to the Imam’s shrine in Meshhad. The saints are called upon because human agency fails: “The Imams cure illness immediately, not like doctors who tell patients to return after six months,” was one of many similar comments I heard over and over again. It was one of Mrs Omid’s favourite phrases, reiterated at the jalaseh she led. Clearly, people’s interaction with the medical system shapes their experience. Judging by the comments made at the women’s gatherings, Zeynab’s appeal is not surprising. She is perceived to embody qualities that they find lacking in the medical system, such as equal treatment of all, both for the rich that visit from the US and for the less privileged and deprived. Zeynab appeared to judge not by class or gender, but on the basis of the purity of her devotees’ faith. And since they see Zeynab as a friend and fellow sufferer, they can express their anguish freely, including traumas suffered in silence. This is seen as preferable to facing ridicule or having their problems dismissed as ‘psychological’ or pigeonholed as discrete pathological conditions by conventional medical practitioners. Clearly, an overt expression of feeling can help restore self-esteem and be a crucial pre-requisite for a cure. It helps patients become active participants in the process of their own healing rather than being passive receivers of ‘advice’ from physicians. Although cures may come about irrespective of vows made to Zeynab, expectations of a miraculous cure are in themselves powerful and may be beneficial, because those who feel vulnerable as patients become agents in their own right.13


Many authors support the importance of an efficacious healing process in a

women’s caring labour


Mrs Sabri’s ritual healing is successful because the ritual is experienced as transformative by the participants themselves. It offers the possibilities of a support group outside the household. Suffering is shared in public and need not be hidden or endured alone, so that individual suffering becomes a social event. The women themselves describe their experience at these rituals as soothing and effective. It indicates that sharing their distress dignifies their life and that their sense of self and morality are embedded in the social group. This is based on their own lifetime of care provision for others. Significantly, when individualized problems are voiced in a public space, they become a matter for the group, shifting the locus of suffering from the personal to the wider context, so that individualized distress is opened to public scrutiny and support.

The Cultural Legitimacy for Prayer Healing The appeal of Zeynab in response to suffering and insecurity is here grounded in a cultural framework that says religious healing is possible (Csordas 1994 a, b). The women who attend Zeynabiyeh are not just the economically marginalized, but from a cross section of society. Those with whom I spoke describe their experience of the prayers as soothing and effective, indicating that the rituals help manage their distress. To argue that only the economically marginalized resort to religious healing does not hold. It was contradicted by the economic and social range of women who visited Mrs Sabri, which is an indication of the cultural legitimacy of religious healing and the conviction that it is efficacious, irrespective of a person’s social class or economic position. But cultural practices are reinforced by structures of power, as well as by the precarious conditions in which people live. The religious discourse is rich in moral implications and individual responsibility. It is based on a this-worldly, practical eschatology that argues that the moral consequences of conduct can be experienced on earth, as well as in the world to come. Well-being depends on maintaining

shift from structures of representation to processes generated through performance or doing. See, Csordas (1994 a, b), Laderman & Roseman (1996).


chapter two

proper relations with the supernatural world, as well as one’s social others. Mrs Sabri’s warning to the women about hejab and namaz implies that any expectations of divine help rest on abiding by the religious injunctions. Since women are thought to be less responsible than men, the moral discourse is pitted against them.14 An explanation I heard many times was that suffering was God’s way of testing a person’s faith. This discourse both individualizes suffering and renders it as an inevitable part of life. Rather than tracing suffering back to a political source, it is constructed as a personal responsibility and as a moral failure, as the following account suggests: Mrs Omid’s daughter, Mariam, told me that when she was a child she fell severely ill but none of the physicians could diagnose her illness. Her father considered that her illness might have developed because they had temporarily stopped a monthly dirge ritual (rowzeh), which they had sponsored in their home for many years. Soon after they resumed the monthly ceremony, her health had improved rapidly. In her recollections, Mariam did not think it relevant to tell me that there might have been other possible reasons for the return of her health other than to confirm her father’s self-validating theory. Ideas about well-being are bound up with kindred beliefs about the workings of the world by powerful, benevolent supernatural spirits or saints, as well as by negative agents such as the ‘evil eye’ (cheshm-bad, nazar zadan). The ‘evil eye’ is a common trope for feelings of vulnerability due to envy from one’s social equals. It is a measure of the kind of social tensions that are expressed in the women’s comments at the healing ritual. For instance, one woman is envious of those who can afford to go on an expensive pilgrimage. Another attributes her son’s problems to peoples’ envy of his good fortune of gaining a place to study at the university. Mrs Sabri expresses anger at those who dare question her motives. These remarks reveal awareness that to be fortunate in conditions of uncertainty or poverty can give rise to hostile envy from one’s social equals. They indicate the conviction that insensitivity to the circums-

14 See, N. Tapper & R. Tapper (1988) on the Durrani Pashtun’s responses to social disorder and personal affliction in terms of their notions of the self, agency and moral responsibility, in which gender distinctions play a central role, though subsumed by abstract notions of subordination to the will of God.

women’s caring labour


tances of the life of others who are less fortunate can attract the ‘evil eye’. But the belief in the ‘evil eye’ puts the blame of inequality on supernatural agency, brought on by a person upon himself or herself. This form of reasoning avoids confronting the inequalities that are the source of social tensions. Practices commonly thought to ensure well-being or to guard against misfortune and envy are numerous among the women that I encountered in the religious circles. They include the mundane such as giving alms (sadaqeh), wearing amulets bearing protective prayers, adorning homes with Qur"anic verses and burning wild rue, a bunch being prominently displayed with Qur"anic inscriptions behind Mrs Sabri.15 Many preventive measures are prescribed in the prayer book Mafatih. For instance, a ritual called 'aqiqeh is said to prevent misfortune befalling a child. This consists of the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb and its consumption with invited guests. I was invited to just one such ritual, but the practice may have been more prevalent during times of high infant mortality. Protective supplications (do'a) that are said to have been ‘revealed’ to the Imams are particularly popular. Many are prescribed for specific weekdays, months, and occasions or for special purposes. Many others are optional or even improvised. The women tell each other of those supplications, which they have found particularly effective. Qur"anic recitations are regarded as powerful in themselves. This can be the recitation of only one verse. For example, some women sponsored a dirge ritual (rowzeh) combined with lunch by monthly rotation in their homes for close acquaintances and friends. At one of these luncheons, the hostess left briefly to go and visit her daughterin law who was ill in a hospital nearby. She returned shortly after with an apple in hand, asked each of us to recite one of the shorter Qur"anic verses (one hamd, three qol-ho-va"llah) and blow over the apple. Then, she returned to give the apple to the patient. A ritual that is particularly popular and deemed effective for wellbeing and prosperity is called khatm-e "an'am. Central to the ceremony is the recitation of the lengthy Qur"anic chapter (S: 6) called al "an'am (Arabic pl. cattle, from the root n'm, Persian ne'mat, abundance, blessing). This chapter is said to be particularly abundant


See, Donaldson (1973) for detailed study of practices relating to wild rue.

where she lived. it 16 The recited phrase from the verse (S. The invited guests take turns to recite ten or twenty verses. she was legitimising her wealth in religious terms. using rosaries to keep count.16 Many women consider this verse efficacious and recite it frequently during jalaseh three times in a row to hasten the recovery of someone who is ill. A final example demonstrating the belief in the efficacy of verses from the Qu"ran is a verse (S27: 62). In effect. Loeffler ibid. One such woman I met made a vow to sponsor the ceremony on a weekly basis for the continued wellbeing and success of her children who were studying abroad. The women’s vows and other practices described above indicate that they expect redress here and now. taking great care that no mistakes are made. asking her to perform a suitable ritual on her behalf in fulfilment of a vow (nazr). They do not use their religious conceptions just to reconcile their experiences of suffering. . as with Mrs Sabri’s healing ritual. pain or injustice. 17 Zikr (dhikr. Arabic) is here not meant in the Sufi sense of a trance inducing ritual. but equally to deny these (cf. religion is not so much an intellectual engagement with theological questions of suffering and injustice but a matter of action upon them (1988: 253). his daughter Fatemeh and his twelve male successors who are the Shi'i Imams. is that avoidance of suffering is as much a religious problem as is its endurance. .18 Mrs Omid said that she devised this ritual for an old friend. As Reinhold Loeffler argues. The point about these examples. 18 The “Fourteen-Most-Pure” (Chahardah Ma'sum) refers to the Prophet. which Zeynab is said to have recited at the height of her distress by the side of her brother’s slain body. . in a concrete and tangible way. Yusif 'Ali translation (1986): “Or who listens to the (soul) distressed when it calls on Him and who believes its suffering and makes you (humankind) inheritors of the earth? . but as invocation or remembrance of God or a saint by repetition of a phrase or a name.” [mankind changed to humankind by myself ]. Mrs Omid named an unusual zikr ritual after the verse “khatm-e amman yujibu”.).17 Twenty-five women recited this verse fourteen thousand times in the name of the “Fourteen-MostPure” (Chahardah Ma'sum). who had called her from the US. The ceremony is also popular among the prosperous middle classes to ensure continued prosperity.86 chapter two with grace because it contains all the names of God and was revealed to the Prophet in its entirety.27: 62) is: “amman yujibu l-muztarra iza da"ahu va-yakshifu s-su"a”. When confronting their illness or other form of suffering.

irrespective of the fact that the result may have been achieved otherwise. & 197 fn. Turner (1996: 92). which are given further credence by factual accounts of medical tests.women’s caring labour 87 is not only to affirm that they can endure it and expect reward as proof of their faith. they also explore all the other avenues at their disposal. it confirms the women’s belief and that they can take action to influence God through the saints. political. based on a widely shared knowledge of humoral distinctions between ‘hot’ (garmi) and ‘cold’ (sardi ) foods. . but it indicates how the women play with context to verify their own beliefs. who in turn refer to B. conceding the latter as an unsatisfactory term). Good (1977). they also rely on their own common sense understanding of the body’s reaction to certain foods and the requirement of dietary balance. Tapper (1986: 70–72). which conceals relations of power. While the women privilege religious healing. Good (1994: 101 ff. whose works became more widely known in 11th–12th centuries through Arab and Persian scholars like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Averroes. while preserving the ultimate priority of Islam. humoral and the magical. Tapper & N. they say that a surgeon can merely assist. The amplified narratives by Mrs Sabri at Zeynabiyeh reinforce such beliefs. Tapper & N. At the root of this system is the idea of a balanced relation 19 Cf. between which the actors switch according to context. and R. Though the individuals themselves may seek out the most experienced surgeon. B. When a problem is resolved or results are obtained. Resorting to the bio-medical system to provide proof of religious efficacy may seem paradoxical. 20 The humoral reasoning people use in Iran is a simplified version derived from early theorists like Galen. Rather. the outcome is still attributed to the will of God. but cannot alter the course of events designed by God. switching or blending available options for the best results. They describe the complex relations between four domains of discourse regarding food evaluations among the Durrani Pashtuns (the religious.20 This knowledge is derived from years of providing care for the household and is passed down from mothers to daughters. See. they seek remedy for their problems here and now. The tension that exists in the mutually contradictory systems (the bio-medical and the religious) is itself resolved culturally and by the belief that all depends ultimately on God’s will. R.19 Apart from seeking advice from physicians and appealing to the saints with vows. 6) for further references. Tapper (1986) for a useful descriptive framework. or that an infinitely better life lies ahead for those who pass the test of faith. which they suggest might have wider applicability in the Middle East. Even in cases of surgery.

transgression or sin and a means to control people’s chosen style of life. nor does it make distinctions along gender lines. In this system. as often done in the case of AIDS. and that an imbalance between the ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ foods can cause ill health. somatized and reduced to a series of discrete pathological conditions (heart disease. as it has no morality or absolutes of good or bad. pointing out that representations of illness are often misrepresentations that not only fail to remedy the causes. Lock and Scheper-Hughes (1990) and Nichter & Lock eds. political and economic forces is an established premise in medical anthropology. but as a set of social. arthritis. These are examples of the ways in which relations of power are inscribed on the body and can be experienced as personal. Thus. . but it fails to address the government’s health care responsibilities. When health and morality are linked. It indicates the ways in which social malaise becomes centred on the body. 21 See. disease itself becomes a form of deviance. 22 See. It discursively shifts the emphasis from social and political ills and the breakdown of the healthcare system to a breakdown in morality. Turner 1996: 92). it works against the fragmentation of the body and mind that characterizes the bio-medical discourse. for example. Good (1994: 56–62) and Lock & Kaufert (1998). The humoral system has withstood the powerful scientific model with its claims of sole knowledge over the body.21 The use of religion for healing illness may be valid therapeutically and economically. despite relatively recent attempts to encourage a more holistic approach. disease is seen in the context of a person’s total life in relation to their environment (B. (2002). The Political Economy of Illness The insight that a medical system ought to be understood not just as a system of knowledge and belief. historical. TB and so on).88 chapter two between the body and the environment.22 The moralizing of social ills is both similar to and linked to the now widely used concept of “medicalization” used by medical anthropologists to place illness and disease in the wider context. such as funding or poverty and other roots of ill health. The humoral system has also endured the powerful religious discourse. but also reinforce them.

women’s caring labour 89 Changes in forms of knowledge are related to forms of power (Foucault 1967. serving as a powerful mechanism through which the government can divest itself of responsibility for social provision. So-called theodicy attempts to situate individual suffering as an aspect of the wider questions about the value and worth of life and divine justice. Religion itself is grounded in humanistic goals. social welfare and religious service strengthen her position in the sphere of social reproduction. a means of state rule and governance in the context of Indonesia. bio-medical treatment and a means by which the needs of the masses can be accommodated. 1977). Popular religious healing practices such as those performed at Zeynabiyeh could thus be defined as a form of political organization. A discourse of the miraculous resolution of problems also promotes religious fervour. Having little to offer those in dire distress. For the government. Steve Ferzacca (2002: 49). 23 Cf. the religious discourse redefines the terms of illness. but takes the shape of a negotiation. integral to the project of government and one of the techniques of knowledge. . based on gender. discourages secularism. The moral economy thus helps sustain the political economy of difference. Set against this humanistic interpretation of the religious discourse is a more instrumental one. the religious discourse of healing and the tacit support of operations like that of Mrs Sabri’s Zeynabiyeh provide an effective alternative to costly. her collusion is not a simple case of exploitation from above. power and subjectification through which social authorities seek to administer and control the lives of individuals. But. which when channelled and controlled. and ultimately legitimizes a theocratic rule. It helps those in distress to make sense of their predicament and to prepare themselves for the inevitable. who refers to Moore (1996: 12) and Foucault’s concept of governmentality. 1990. who are particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged when it comes to accessing scarce resources like healthcare. as provider of health care. suggesting that medical pluralism is a political organisation. although she turns it to her advantage.23 This is consistent with the promotion of Zeynab’s image as an icon of care and as miraculous healer. class and other forms of difference. Her multiple roles as charitable fundraiser. This crucially affects the less privileged and the poorer sections of society. Mrs Sabri’s work seemingly fits in well with this project.

It challenges the assumption of disinterestedness associated with women’s caring labour in the domestic realm. Moore (1991: 46–54. and should be fully acknowledged as worthy of entitlements. Mrs Sabri’s public performance of caring labour demonstrates women’s stake in social reproduction. Questions over the provision of childcare affecting women’s needs and rights in relation to work are. by demonstrating unselfish motives by making vows for others. for example. even though there are vast differences between the meanings and experiences of motherhood across class and racial lines (Moore 1994: 99). By demanding a fee equivalent to that of physicians for her work as care giver. class or race that involve questions of power and ideology. Moore (1994: 86–106) argues that the discursive categories of reproduction and production are grounded in discourses on social identity. consolidate her position. cleaning and their management) are linked to wider economic. The feminist struggle over interpretations of needs and rights is therefore not simply about the allocation of or access to resources. . where provision of care is naturalized and unpaid. Mrs Sabri contests the ‘professionalisation’ of healthcare by the educated middle classes as sole sources of authority and winners of income.90 chapter two The Politics of Caring Labour: Familiar Dualisms in a New Guise Feminist scholarship has long questioned the arbitrary separation of reproduction (‘female procreativity’) from production (‘male productivity’). political and social processes. Her clients.24 Drawing on Fraser’s (1989) analysis of the politics of interpretation. which are particularly powerful because it appears ‘natural’ that mothers should be the prime care givers. Resistance to the boundaries of production/reproduction in a setting associated with religious values and domestic care may seem a transgression. These in turn relate to naturalized differences like gender. care provision. determination and satisfaction of needs and rights. rather than explain they justify. but about rethinking the discursive gendered categories of production and reproduction themselves. based on conceptualisations of ‘motherhood’. Beyond claiming 24 For an overview of the debates on the relation between production and reproduction see. It argues that reproductive activities within the household units (like feeding. Claims of ‘naturalness’ override rational explanation. 1994: 86–106).

25 An interesting parallel argument by Julie Peteet (1997) concerns redefinitions of motherhood by mothers of martyrs in the context of Palestinian struggle for statehood. warranting social and economic recognition. She does not oppose the public/ domestic value regimes politically.25 This public engagement with the established categories. for example. An apt example is the legal enforcement of payment of like wages for housework (ujrat-al-mithl) in the 1992 amendments to the divorce laws.26 The very context defines the gendered dualities that Mrs Sabri’s performance blurs. Mir-Hosseini (1996. affecting thereby women’s negotiation power. but also beyond. mixing symbols of the market (money. The significance here is that life and growth are divorced from procreation and shifted to the realm of social reproduction. Peteet goes beyond the familiar discourse of mothers as national icons to one where women challenge ‘the gendering of citizenship or caring labor’ and rescript motherhood as a socially productive activity warranting state support and recognition (1997: 104–105). Her action is effective because it alters the terms of the discourse that conceptualizes women as ‘merely’ reproductive by revealing the contradictions contained within it. Instead she reveals reproductive activity to be socially productive. They lead on to more formal negotiations over. . ‘production’) with symbols of domestic care (‘reproduction’) in a religious setting is significant. 26 On ‘boundary transgression’ (Douglas 1966) see. but her action is political. the sexual division of labour and the allocation of resources. and the religious idiom that she employs is a particularly effective way to press her claims. 27 See.women’s caring labour 91 payments. 2002) on the new amendments to the law. Whether Mrs Sabri’s efforts yield concrete results is less important.27 The amendment enables the Shari'a-based family courts of law to put a monetary value on the domestic work women do during marriage. Kapchan’s analysis of the power of mixing the categories of the sacred and the market in women’s discourses on magic in a Moroccan market (1996: 234–271). not only within the household. Performances such as these are self-fulfilling. It could be argued that this feminine focus on healing and care provision is a powerful life-creating symbol that women appropriate by means of female-specific rituals. she also introduces an alternative to the discourse that defines women’s bodies as merely reproductive.

coherence and timelessness associated with the term ‘culture’.CHAPTER THREE THE WELL-ADJUSTED MISFIT SELF-CREATION AND THE CONTINGENCIES OF SELFHOOD This chapter explores how a dream comes to constitute an aspect of personhood through which new social relationships are forged. See. Goli is a ‘repentant sinner’ from the very margins of society. That a social outcast should become a celebrated conduit for barakat seems extraordinary. It is both culturally mediated and historically situated. the focus on an individual’s life. She tells her story of transition from cabaret star to her vocation as an intermediary for making vows by means of a ‘revelatory dream’. . Actors may be self-determining in certain contexts. Moore (1994). but denied autonomy and influence in others. her story reveals the relations of power that produce and shape cultural practices. Her story is of particular interest because as Abu-Lughod argues (1997: 98–99). conflicts and struggles. Feminist scholarship has repeatedly shown that the personal is political. While power 1 On the relationship between the social and the individual. We will encounter a woman who derives her popularity through a different route to that set out by Mrs Omid and Mrs Sabri (Chapters 1 & 2). see for example. Goli’s story is not simply private or idiosyncratic. even by local standards. It demonstrates Goli’s intense struggle in her new vocation to adhere to the prescribed femininities of the Islamic regime. Okely (1991). These are not mutually exclusive. also Bauman (1986). Goffman (1990). But far from being an example of the ‘culturally exotic’.1 The intersection of personal histories with structures of power and domination is particularly revealing of the relationship between the individual and the social. desires. An emphasis on subjective narratives and the ability of individuals to act on their world does not mean a denial of their relation to systematized inequalities like gender and class. avoids the connotations of homogeneity. their choices. Ochs & Capps (1996).

the well-adjusted misfit 93 may be legitimized. A celebration (mowludi) is being held in honour of Fatemeh’s birth.2 This chapter discusses Goli’s creative deployment of a dream as a tool in her struggle for recognition and livelihood. it is also contested and must be specified in context rather than assumed in advance. based on stories of her speech in the Prophet’s mosque defending her husband 'Ali’s right of succession. between the individual and the social (Giddens 1977. The issue here is one of the relationships between structure and action. always positioned in relation to particular discourses and practices and produced by these . We will also track the views of the other participants who pursue their own concerns and interests. 1979. But it also interrogates the conditions that make this struggle a necessary step to be valued. Fatemeh’s birth has been officially proclaimed “Mother’s Day” (ruz-e madar). “Subjects are dynamic and multiple. We begin with a description of Goli’s house that is now a popular centre for making vows to the saints. As with the saint Zeynab (see Chapter 2). It is also celebrated as “Woman’s Day” (ruz-e zan) with the aim of providing an Islamic alternative to “International Woman’s Day”. It demonstrates the fluid. . Bourdieu 1992). see Hartsock (1990: 158). neutralized or even positively valued. she is an icon of chastity. . an image used as a source of legitimacy for gender relations by religious scholars and intellectuals in the Islamic Republic (Mir Hosseini 1999: 53–65).” (1984: 3). 2 On the notion of ‘contested power’. Fatemeh has multiple images. The section opens with the paid female preacher having to put up with a series of apparently inconsequential interruptions from Goli as she attempts to lead a mowludi. but they also depend on each other for their success. daughter and wife. piety and submission as mother. contingent and political nature of identities. As Henriques et al. Since the Revolution of 1978–79. One is that of defiance and justice. . The relationship between these very different women is difficult. and of her bold reclamation of her inherited land of Fadak. which the Caliphs had usurped. Her dreams provide an insight into the ways in which individuals position themselves within unequal relations of power. But above all. say.

visitors see facing them on the wall a large bunch of wild rue (esfand) to protect against the ‘evil eye’. The elaborate interior displays are unlike any I had seen elsewhere. Facing the large frame on the oppo- The “Fourteen-Most-Pure” (Chahardah Ma'sum) refers to the Prophet.6 In one of the rooms. 4 Green is the colour of the Prophet and his descendants who are called seyyed. glossy posters of Mecca and Medina. Along the veranda are two adjoining rooms that Goli has set aside for religious gatherings.94 chapter three “The Maidservant of the Fourteen-Most-Pure” (Kaniz-e Chahardah Ma'sum)3 Goli’s house is situated in an alley in a busy shopping centre in central Tehran. 'Abbas and Zeynab. which refers to the Prophet and his immediate household. Flaskerud for a detailed description of the visual imagery used by women to create a religious space in a temporary venue for their ritual performances in Shiraz (2005: 68–76). votive offerings. ya Qamar-e Bani-Hashem. The appellation Qamar-e Bani Hashem refers to Hazrat-e 'Abbas. handsome images of Imam Husseyn and his brave half-brother Hazrat-e 'Abbas on horseback brandishing a sword. his daughter Fatemeh and his male successors. Qur"anic verses and the panj tan (‘The Five Bodies’). in the name of the ‘Fourteen-MostPure’.”7 All these items are linked to stories that Goli ensures her visitors learn. A small triangular green flag above the front door invites visitors to enter via a curtained entrance. There are also various other pieces of cloth in black or green stitched with supplications.4 This opens into a small courtyard. around which are the rooms where Goli lives. Sanctified by association with the visited shrines. tavassol be Chahardah-Ma'sum. ya Hazrat-e Zeynab.5 Cloth banners bearing embroidered or printed calligraphy drape the pillars and doorways and the walls are cluttered with relics. containing a piece of cloth stitched with the phrase. “God. Hassan and Husseyn. 6 The panj tan are also designated as the ahl-e beyt (‘those of the House’). 5 Cf. 3 . 7 Ya Allah. It is a two-storied building made of crumbling yellow bricks set within high dusty walls. who are the twelve Shi'a Imams. attention is drawn to a large frame covered with glass. who are Fatemeh and her husband 'Ali with their two sons. brightly coloured. Prominent among them are large. The ‘maidservant’ (kaniz) is a self appellation chosen by Goli herself as an expression of her religious humility as a devotee of the saints. these items are bearers of promise and hope. Going up to the veranda via a stairway. who died with Imam Husseyn at the Karbala battle (ad 680). posters and images of saints brought back from pilgrimage.

Goli has dedicated hers to the ‘infallible’ Shi'i saints and has designated it accordingly “House of the Maidservant of the FourteenMost-Pure”. These range from services like sweeping and serving refreshments during rituals. goes away empty-handed. The creation of religious centres by women in their homes.8 I met several other women who created permanent religious spaces in their homes. husbands. Renowned as an auspicious centre for ‘favours and vow making’ (nazr-o-niyaz). apart from Mrs Omid. she has strong reservations about any initiatives that she considers unorthodox. there were 322 Hosseyniyeh centres in Tehran. As with her views on Zeynabiyeh. dedicating them to their preferred saints and designating them accordingly. as well as providing Goli’s livelihood through votive offerings. a title derived from Imam Husseyn. including the sponsorship of rituals in Goli’s house. All those with whom I have spoken consider Goli’s house highly propitious. The popularity of Goli’s house rose rapidly in the early years of the Islamic Republic. calling them as bed'at. The conversion of part of the home into a religious centre by women brings religious significance to their home as well as kudos 8 Arjomand (1988: 92) reports that by 1974. sons and brothers or political leaders). This is an assertive display of a woman’s portrait in a public space commonly occupied by portraits of men (fathers. such as Goli’s and Mrs Sabri’s (Chapter 2). People refer to Goli’s house as a Hosseyniyeh. often because of a vow or a dream. No one. all conspicuous by their absence from Goli’s walls. to supplying sugar or tea for a specified period or making more substantial payments in cash or kind. but he does not mention any home-based centres run by women. apparently. They are usually independent buildings funded by religious endowments (vaqf ). . has become popular in the new Islamic order and seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon. to whom such centres are generally dedicated. The classes are now held twice weekly on an open-house basis presided over by a female preacher whom Goli has employed. Many stories are told of miraculous cures and problems resolved for people who come to Goli’s house from near and far. The women who use this centre fund and maintain it. it became a centre for religious gatherings and Qur"an classes soon after the Islamic Republic came to power.the well-adjusted misfit 95 site wall is a large black and white photograph of Goli closely veiled.

For instance. To trivialize these spaces as ‘merely’ cathartic or domestic would be simplistic. More recently. The political significance of sermons in the Islamic Republic is well-known. However. Women must enter by a side entrance and are only allowed to use spaces on the margins separate from men. the women find greater freedom and autonomy to explore their own understandings of religion and the world about them. http://news. Chapter 1). . the denial of equal access to mosques cannot be ascribed to any ‘Islamic essence’ but to those who claim to be representatives of Islamic law at various historical junctures. Sullivan 1998: 221). 14.11 Thus. a professor of Islamic studies in the US. so that barring women from the pulpit in effect denies them an influential political platform. these homebased centres allow women more freedom and an unhindered access to a space of worship of their own making. many of the women that I knew said that entry into mosques during menstruation is a sin. 11 For variations in practices regarding women’s use of mosques. and recent challenges by women (2005: 86–89).9 Unlike mosques. on 18 March 2005.96 chapter three (‘symbolic capital’) for their household. Zeynab gave political speeches in the mosque (Fischer 1978: 196 n. as did Fatemeh in defence of her husband 'Ali’s right of succession to the Prophet (Mir-Hosseini 1999: 60). Amina Wadud. 10 The view relates to the rules (ahkam) defining menstruation as impurity (nejasat) and the requirement that mosques are kept ritually These are just a few examples of the radical imposition of authority over women by the religious establishment. are not available to women on equal terms with men. although they use their designated space to good advantage. including petitioning the saints with stories of misfortune or misery that counter the stories propagated by the state. See also Mahmood on prohibitions on women’s use of mosques in Egypt. led a mixed congregation in Friday prayer and gave a sermon in an Anglican Church building in New York after mosques refused to host the event ( In practice. In their own spaces. Mosques. this rule has been subject to variation across time and space and is currently being challenged by women and some men (cf.10 Significantly. see Ahmed (1992: 60–61. Pinault 1992: 5. only men are allowed to deliver sermons (khotbeh) from the pulpit (menbar). 75).co. Janet Bauer reports that some women told her that they take pills to stop menstruation in order to be able to go on pilgrimage and enter sacred spaces (1985: 121). despite being central institutions of worship for all worshippers. 9 Bourdieu’s ‘symbolic capital’ includes values like prestige and renown as ‘the most valuable form of accumulation’ in the community of his example (1992: 171–183).

dance. including jalaseh (Chapter 1).the well-adjusted misfit Celebration of Fatemeh’s Birthday Anniversary: A mowludi 19 Jamadi II 1413 AHQ/14 December 1992 97 Mowludi (Arabic. such as the one described here. sofreh (Chapter 4). or anyone among the participants who possesses a repertoire of poems and a good melodic voice (‘warm voice’. The choice as to how a mowludi should be performed. As with all rituals. song and most controversially of all. seda-ye garm). songs. such as a tambourine (tombak. such as coming of age. as a sign of loyalty to the state. but women often compose poems themselves and are admired by other women for them. The lead can be a professional female cantor (maddah). mawlud. . The possibilities for free expression are immense. some women sponsor mowludi in their homes to mark the anniversary of Khomeini’s return to Iran in 1979. dayereh. Torab (1998) and Chapter 8 below. There is invariably tension between a moralistic approach to religious practice and the desire for joy through music making. moving house or return from pilgrimage. as with any ritual. teasing (eshveh) and flirtatious (kereshmeh) when combined with the beat 12 For variations of mowludi. birth) are immensely popular among women and are characterized by their diversity and spontaneity. Central to mowludi are the singing of joyful poems in praise of the saints by the participants (mowludi-khani). is in effect a political choice. khtam-e "an'am (Chapter 2). which is a public holiday with media involvement on a wide scale. rowzeh and Qur"an classes. or for which occasion. dramatic performances in jashn-e 'Omar (Chapter 7). There are many mowludi pamphlets or books on the market. Persian dance is immensely popular and can be coquettish (naz). see Kalinock (2003). mowludi are extremely versatile and are often combined with other rituals. A percussion instrument may be used. daf ) or simply a kitchen pot. but also are revealing of their political and religious loyalties. strong enough to rise above the steady beat of clapping and chorus of refrains that accompanies the lead.12 They are held for any of the joyful events on the religious calendar or for life course events. music making and dance. invariably giving rise to spontaneous dancing. The mowludi display women’s skills at composition of poems. For instance.

hence haram (forbidden). 15 See. Underlying the clergymen’s reasoning is the notion that dancing and melody give free reign to sensuousness and thus lead to the loss of control over the body or nafs. Each woman recites ten verses from the Qur"an from the Chapter called an-nisa (S. called literally “of the streets and bazaars” (kutcheh-bazaari). a Qur"an class was in progress presided over by a middle-aged female preacher wearing a green headscarf to indicate her status as seyyed (a descendant of the Prophet). See Chapter 7 for examples. When we arrived at about nine in the morning.13 The dance often develops into popular satiric performances. They attempt thereby to curb the momentum and the desire to dance.98 chapter three of a tambourine which women skilfully perform (see also. The preacher commends their competent performance. but come because See. See also Anjavi-Shirazi (1973) for a collection of such songs and Safa-Isfahani’s (1980) analysis of these songs as satirical commentaries on women’s lives and sexuality. disputes are common. “Women”). hence they are rarely invited to preside over mowludi held in private homes. 14 13 .4.15 Even singing and clapping is prescribed and restricted. Mrs Omid once admitted that she rarely accepted invitations to a mowludi because of this. Fatemeh. The presence of preachers generally reins in free expression and dampens the festive tone. but she neither translates nor explains the verses. Mariam whispers to me that most of the women are proficient at Qur"an recitation. stopping occasionally to correct a mistake. preachers advocate clapping with two fingers only (do-angoshti) instead of the full hand. but are not always successful. In order to control the tempo during mowludi. which is seen as a sign of weakness in intellect ('aql ). she sits on an elevated seat looking down at about eighty middle aged and older women who are seated elbow-to-elbow on the floor in front of her. I went with Mrs Omid’s daughter Mariam. despite her mother’s reservations about Goli’s centre. Azar Nafisi (2004: 265–266) for a vivid description of Persian dance. which revolve around the theme of women’s sexuality. The religious authorities define dancing by women (or men) as sinful (gonah). Unlike Mrs Omid.14 When dancing takes place during mowludi. My first visit to Goli’s house was on the birthday anniversary of the Prophet’s daughter. Mariam’s aunt however visited Goli’s house regularly as she lived close by. Torab (1998: 453–54) on the views of some of the leading Ayatollahs on dance and song. Chapter 7).

rather flamboyant and all in garish green. Goli is the only one not wearing a headscarf. The two rooms continue to fill and as more women arrive. probably in her early forties and good-looking by the standards of popular stars in the Shah’s era. stopping as soon as the preacher tells them not to weep on such a day. After the Qur"an recitations. the preacher reminds the women to ensure that their hair is covered and that their chador is held in place. She indicated thereby the omnipresence of the state and tacit support of Goli’s centre by implication. ample. boxes of sweet pastry are passed around and Mariam insists that I take one for its barakat. Goli is vivacious. With the mention of the Mahdi’s name. the women readjust their veils and some begin to sob. adding that her aunt says that the wives of high-ranking government officials often attended and one should be careful of what one said. brown eyes and dyed blond hair. Meanwhile. but is interrupted by Goli. “Zahra make us aware of our roles as women and mothers. who enters in a jovial mood telling everyone to make room for more newcomers. controversial campaign to raise money in support of the Muslim community in Bosnia. referring to the government’s wide scale.the well-adjusted misfit 99 of the auspiciousness of Goli’s house. reminding the women that Fatemeh is their primary role model. like the preacher. worn loosely down to her shoulders. Ignoring her. Many people regard the campaign as misguided given the poverty they see . She is small. Her dress is festive. Switching to another theme. Mariam points discreetly to a new arrival and whispers that she is the wife of the prayer-leader of the local mosque. a colour that is intended to advertise her claim to seyyed status. as otherwise the angels would not enter the room. The preacher announces that she has chosen the verses in honour of Fatemeh and at regular intervals during the recitations she congratulates everyone for the joyous “Woman’s Day”. she cautions again about hejab.” Warning that there are many signs that the ‘Lord of the Ages’ will soon reappear. the preacher says that all Muslims should help the Bosnian Muslims and donate freely in aid of their war. has a fair complexion. the preacher announces that she would like to speak about “women and mowludi”. clearly intended as a warning to Goli who at this point leaves the room. the preacher asks everyone to move closer to make room and to pray for a larger Hosseyniyeh for Goli. The preacher continues with more praises for Fatemeh.

one for alms (sadaqeh) and one for the seyyed. it was the very thing Goli resisted. showing overwhelming support for Goli. so the preacher now attempts to create a festive mood.100 chapter three at home and in response to the preacher’s call. Mariam whispers that these collections are for Goli herself. She reaches for a booklet of mowludi poems in her handbag and acting as lead. Everyone claps with two fingers (doangoshti) and joins in singing refrains of praise: 16 Az tulu'-e Zahra Madineh gardid cho golshan Khaneh-ye Khadijeh gardid cho golshan Jan-e Mostafa amad. The women pretend not to notice the tension between Goli and the preacher and contribute freely. the great lady16 The mood begins to change. Goli reappears striding into the room with confidence. sediqeh-ye kobra . they are bulging with notes. leaving much to individual interpretation. still without a headscarf. Arabic) as well as the inheritor of the Angel Gabriel’s ‘revelations’ from God that are yet to be disclosed. When the bags reach Goli again. the spirit of Morteza came The paradisal woman. Zahra be zuhur amad Ensiye-ye hura. who is ‘mother of all fathers and Imams’ ("umm-e "abia". She presents Fatemeh not simply as a prime symbol of womanhood. but as a powerful woman. Zahra’s son” and adds that he was also born on this day. only one woman declares that she wishes to make a donation to the Muslim fighters and hands over a large banknote to her. begins to sing: Medina was lit as Zahra’s light rose at dawn Khadijeh’s house became like a garden of flowers The soul/body of Mostafa [Prophet] came. Meanwhile. light came. When the preacher warned the women about their headscarves. the great lady Light came. Mowludi are generally meant to be merry occasions. she interrupts the preacher’s talk by telling the women to pass two paper bags around for collections. Quick to assert her status and without any attempt at tact. sediqeh-ye kobra Nur amad-o nur amad. ruh-e Morteza amad Ensiye-ye hura. The preacher disregards Goli’s presence and continues to talk about Fatemeh. Mariam whispers derisively that this link is fabricated for political reasons. The preacher then prompts everyone to congratulate “Imam Khomeini. Zahra came alight The Paradisal woman. Goli is pert and contrary.

a woman clearly agitated announces. Once more. Then Goli reappears with another bag full of small sugar balls (noql) and sweets. “Ya Allah” a few times to indicate his entrance. Mariam collects a handful. one woman declares loudly that we are all invited to a mowludi in her home nearby. our religion started as a religion of resistance.”18 As people prepare to leave. wearing a black turban and black cloak enters murmuring audibly. and then chants a short rowzeh about her suffering before her death. rounds of salavat and repeated prompts for clapping when it begins to fade. about one third of the women leave and the rest converse among themselves. As is usual with dirges. indicating thereby a desire for 17 18 Shi'a begu be Mostafa tabarak Tavvalod-e Fatemeh-at mobarak Mowludi-ye Zahrast Shadi mohayyast jomhuri piruz ast ruz-e zan emruz ast . more boxes of pastry and sweets are passed around. By midday. “Our religion is full of tragedies. Suddenly. the singing is stopped by the preacher prompting us to clap and sing the popular revolutionary slogan in affirmation of the state as a final emphasis to her political loyalty: “The Republic is victorious. which she scatters over everyone’s head with the kind of loud ululations (hel-heleh) used at weddings. As the singing proceeds. As midday approaches. the clergyman begins with a brief account in praise of Fatemeh. Everyone hurriedly throws their chador right over their head and face as an old dirge cantor (rowzeh-khan). today is Woman’s Day. Taking over the elevated seat on which the preacher has been sitting. One woman next to me tells me sobbing. the ahl-e beyt had more pains than joy. urging me to take some of it home for its barakat. the women begin to weep. “aqa (lord. a usual method of warning women to put on the veil when a turbaned man enters female space.the well-adjusted misfit Shi'ites say congratulations to Mostafa Congratulations for Fatemeh’s birthday It is Zahra’s mowludi Joy is around17 101 The preacher maintains the momentum with a continuous flow of songs.” She felt she needed to explain to me the reason why a dirge was chanted on a joyous day. sir) has come”.

She begins with the labour pains of her mother Khadijeh. scattering sugar balls (noql ) over everyone’s head. Two of . The preacher and a few of the others go to the adjoining room to perform the midday prayers. which comes to an abrupt end with Goli’s entrance. A few go up to the glass frame bearing the cloth stitched with the names of God and the saints (the product of Goli’s dreams). Most of the women leave. they clap with loud choruses of salavat at various intervals. The sermon ends with a final prayer to the Mahdi. the bright light that shone from the infant’s forehead at birth and the declaration of faith (shahadat) by the infant. Some of those remaining put on their prayer-veils (chador-namaz) to perform their prayers in Goli’s auspicious house. each day equalling the weekly growth rate of other infants. taking up her seat again. She changes the mood by ululating festively. Goli has returned and places her own hand on top of theirs to help channel barakat to them. but stop when one woman complains about the dancing and turning to me. as had been instructed in her dreams (see below). She provokes a dispute. the ritual weeping stops as soon as it is over and the women relax as soon as the clergyman leaves. Once again. As the women listen to the story. whereupon other women begin to clap spontaneously. followed by some more women who also leave. and as is usual. she invited me to stay on for lunch after everyone else had left. After the preacher leaves the room. Mariam whispers critically that the preacher cannot be very educated telling a fabricated story.102 chapter three more joy by implication. while others converse amiably. says that the old woman is deranged. lasting about five minutes only. Meanwhile. whispering supplications or making vows to the saints while touching the glass. Revelatory Dreams On one of my later visits to Goli’s house to attend a gathering. ensuring that their veils are in place. The preacher returns from her lunch. The women respond with gratitude by praying that God grant Goli religious merit (savab) and a larger Hosseyniyeh. describes the cloth the angels brought from Paradise to wrap around the child. who then developed rapidly. The rowzeh is short. tells a story of Fatemeh’s birth in the following sequence. an old woman stands up and begins to dance. whereupon everyone stands up as required.

. and then he took my right hand and told me to close my eyes. That night I had my period. At this moment the two relatives left the room and Goli said in a hushed tone: 19 The ‘Lord of the Ages’ (Imam-e Zaman) is known as the ‘Hidden Imam’ (Imam-e Qayeb) because it is thought that he disappeared in a well.19 I saw a seyyed up to his chest in the water. I could read in my dream. I realized that I had reached the top of the well. save me from this well’. But she wanted to ensure that it was her own account. Goli paused to explain to me: In Islam. He was very beautiful. I had not come prepared with a tape recorder. including the comments Goli made in between. What follows is a careful translation of the entire account. but there must have been a reason for me to remember it [in the dream]. take my hand. Although I am illiterate. Sharing dreams and soliciting interpretations is highly popular among the women. He said my name and asked. the Lord told me to repeat salavat three times. On it was written ‘Maidservant of the ‘Fourteen-Most-Pure’. one must sleep seven days separate from one’s husband during menstruation. As this was an unexpected invitation. hence I knew this. “O God! A well this large must be the one of the ‘Lord of the Ages’”. asking me to go over it. My own husband is a mullah’s son (akhund-zadeh). for she knew of my intention of writing about her centre. I thought how could I have dreamed of the Lord in this [impure] state. From deep inside the well. ‘Lord (aqa). the Lord pinned a badge (medal) on my chest. ‘Did you call me? I am the Lord of the Ages’ (Imam-e Zaman). [Goli then continued]: In my dream. Goli’s objective in telling me her dreams was to reach a wider audience. She asked me to write down her story verbatim as she narrated it and ensured that I did so by pausing at regular intervals. The First Dream In my despicable and sinful state I dreamed that I was washing clothes in a well. and not overwritten by me. The Lord knew what was going on through my mind and said that it is God’s will that it is possible that Imams appear in a dream even during menstruation unless the forbidden (haram) rule has been breached. I said to myself.the well-adjusted misfit 103 her relatives joined us initially as Goli began to give me a detailed account of three of her dreams over a meal which she arranged to be brought from outside. I said.

Once the seyyed had stitched these names. This was because it had to be clear in whose name this place was going to be. Mr Qara"ati [another popular preacher with regular shows on TV] said that it was written in a book that you are a seyyed if your mother was one [the standard view is to trace seyyed descent patrilineally]. So. d. I even interpret the dreams of renowned preachers [Goli named a preacher who appeared regularly on TV]. in the morning I went to Qom [theological centre] to Mr Mar'ashi [a prominent Ayatollah. Goli continued: I was not able to interpret my own dream. After her visit to the Ayatollah. he wept. because the Imams were pure (infallible. then in the middle. this kindness was bestowed on me. before my sister-in-laws return. Mr Mar'ashi told me that I had been chosen as a ‘Maidservant of the Fourteen-Most-Pure’ and that I must sponsor a rowzeh every fourteen months in their honour.” Goli then added her own view: The Lord is especially mahram to seyyeds (descendent of the Prophet). He said he would not . calling on his youth. When the Islamic Republic closed cabarets.104 chapter three I better tell you. and my mother is a seyyed. in one corner at the bottom 'Abol-Fazl and in the other bottom corner Hazrat-e-Zeynab. asking him what the vow was. The person who repents is very dear to God. All seyyed are mahram to all Shi'i who are not seyyed. 1990]. The Imam is mahram (a cross-sex relationship unrestricted by rules of veiling and avoidance) to all women during his occultation. ma'sum) and have no particular intentions against anyone. he placed them on his eyes and wept. and by way of acceptance of my repentance. even though I am good at interpreting dreams. ‘Here are the names of all our Imams. He said. Goli undertook a series of actions that went beyond the Ayatollah’s suggestions: I went to Mashhad [the most popular shrine city in north east Iran] to the shop of a young man who was a seyyed. I made a vow’. that the kindness that God bestowed on me through the Lord was because I had sinned gravely several times but repented (towbeh). As I was stitching the name of the Fourteen-Most-Pure. ‘Resorting to the Fourteen-Most-Pure’ (tavassol be Chahardah Ma'sum). because you saw the ‘Lord of the Ages’ and he touched your hand. I woke up. I beseeched him. and it was because of this that the Lord took your hand. They are [God’s] chosen ones (nazar-kardeh) and no impure hands must touch them. Goli repented and a clergyman arranged for her to marry one of his own relatives. As soon as he heard my dream. Goli was a cabaret dancer. He stitched the names of Imams on pieces of cloth for me. I later discovered that before the revolution of 1978–79. even by many secular people. He was very devoted to the Prophet’s household (ahl-e beyt). a profession commonly regarded as being tantamount to prostitution. I told him to place God’s name (Khoda) at the top. He said to me: “If you were a man I would have kissed your eyes and your right hand.

they even threw stones at our Prophet and said he was mad. This became the norm and the truth was proven. The saints granted all of them their favours. You are only his maidservant. O God. The Second Dream We were sitting on the floor facing the wall bearing the frame with the sacred cloth. as it would be proven to me later. therefore you must also hear such words until the truth is proven. but every time you put someone’s hand on the frame I had to laugh. You took my hand and put it on the frame—this woman comes here every fourteen months—you placed my hand on the name of 'Abol-Fazl. place their hands on the name of the Fourteen-Most-Pure and say.”20 Goli then commented: I woke up from my dream. I brought the cloth to Tehran and put it up in the room. They will ask why it is necessary to put the hand on the names and not simply express our intent (niyyat) from here. people would ridicule me if I tell them this. Gradually the truth was proven to other women in the same way. for your satisfaction and in respect of the ‘Fourteen-MostPure’. the Mahdi] standing beside the piece of cloth of the ‘Fourteen-Most-Pure’. to perform namaz on time and be forgiving’. I sponsored fourteen rowzeh in one year. 20 Do-ta 'ahd-e vajeb khoda-ya bara-ye reza-ye to va be ehteram-e Chahardah Ma'sum mibandam ta betavanam namaz sar-e vaqt.. “Why did you doubt? Goli khanom put your hand on the face of 'Abol Fazl with a pure heart. He said. Fatemeh] wearing a black Arabian dress and standing next to the frame saying. used as a respectful qualifier when using the more familiar personal name) whoever comes here. “Goli khanom (Ms.e. Then I saw a beautiful woman of sixteen or seventeen years old [i. He said to me. Goli continued with her third dream. One day a woman wept and said. I thought to myself.e. Goli continued to tell me her second dream without pause: After a year I dreamed of a beautiful and handsome man with a black turban [i. ‘I will make two obligatory promises. gozasht. yes right on his face.” Now this woman is a devoted believer. ‘Goli khanom forgive me (halal-am kon).the well-adjusted misfit 105 tell me. one evening I went home and dreamed that I was very troubled. It all started with our friends and relatives who placed their hands on the frame and said the two obligatory promises. Then. Then I said to myself in my dream that Goli khanom has finally also put my hand on the frame. . I came to your house. He told me that this was a true dream and I must carry it out. My husband helped me a lot. I like you and believe in your house.

‘You told me yourself to place everybody’s hand on it’. she takes my hand. The cousin of this boy would not marry. They came to my house and brought me sweet pastries and sugar balls (noql). She reminds me that people keep coming back to make vows. they are menstruating and do not know that the name of Imams must not be touched with an impure hand’. She supplies moving details such as the Ayatollah’s tearful response. ‘We said so. Dreams are often complex compositions of unrelated sequences. places it on the frame. That year. they won. I will wait with all my friends from the football team until it is framed. rests her own hand on mine . On the eve of the match there had been heavy snowfall on the Amjadiyeh stadium. But these boys declared that they were prepared to play and because of this. since I have no pretensions of being a Prophet! [Goli continues]: The voice in my dream told me. We will frame it with salavat and return it to you with salavat’. One night I dreamed that the name of the ‘Fourteen-Most-Pure’ was no longer on the wall. saying that these boys are young and that if you grant them their wish. We have folded it and placed it on the pulpit (manbar) because you put someone’s impure hand on it’. rearranging it each time for more clarity for her listeners. They left. It was an uneven match of fourteen year olds against a professional team. He said.106 chapter three The Third Dream This frame had formerly no glass on it. ‘Aunt Goli. as God wills. her performance is convincing and creates credibility even for a sceptical listener like me. The son of a friend was a fourteen-year-old football player. pointing to the votive emblems on the walls as tangible proof. ‘Do not fret. We learn that the tailor who stitched the piece of cloth with the sacred names similarly wept over his task. The next week he married. Nonetheless. and we will bring it back to you. Moving to the frame containing the sacred cloth of her dreams. I hit myself in my dream and wondered who had stolen it. there was a lot of snow. When they brought the frame back to me. Now. since most of the women are young. and the Persepolis team refused to play. He said. It was like other pieces of cloth on the wall. they asked me to pray for them to win their match against the Perspolis team. because I am much attached to it. A voice told me in my dream: [Addresses me at this point]: Make sure you write that this was in my dream. But Goli’s narrative is astonishingly coherent with a beginning and an end. They saw him in the street and placed his hand on the frame. It may be that she had been retelling her dreams over and over. but frame it and place a glass on it. their faith will increase. I beseeched the ‘Fourteen-Most-Pure’. Goli then commented that: I did not dare give the cloth to just anybody to frame. I did not know that I was dreaming so I replied.

epic legends and Shi'a texts. I was told that by repeating a certain prayer (do'a) regularly after the daily prayers (namaz). in particular to barren women. Typically. See. gender difference applies to dream interpretation. ro"ya) and their interpretations (ta"bir-e khab) are well-established in popular tradition. in their dream. this did not seem to apply to Goli’s dreams. whose books are popular among the jalaseh circles with which I was familiar. which is used in opposition to ‘right’ (rast). 21 . It is not only that dreams (khab. Shi'a texts argue that the dreams of a ‘believer’ are true. See. Goli directs me to a cradle at the end of her veranda.the well-adjusted misfit 107 and instructs me to make a vow. is one among several about the miracles of the Mahdi. devout or know the Qur"an by rote (hafez-e Qur"an) can be visited by an Imam. Women’s dreams are popularly said to be ‘untrue’ and mean the opposite of their apparent content. Ja'faral-Sadeq. lit. She assures me that at times Fatemeh’s spirit visits her house leaving a sweet scent in her trail. 117–119). 23 The Persian phrase used is: khab-e zan chap ast.22 They are also widely considered as useful and accurate accounts that provide access to the supernatural world. including the Qur"an. I could be sure to encounter the Mahdi someday in my daily life or by a visitation in my dream. including the Mahdi. The author is a Qom cleric called Abtahi. Before I leave. who was cruelly killed dying of thirst in the battle of Karbala. saying that it belonged to Imam Husseyn’s infant boy 'Ali-Asghar. the dream of a woman is ‘left’ (chap).21 She takes my hand and places it on the cradle in order that I make a vow. Goli then presses a book into my hands. as I had seen her do with others. Dream Narrative and Self-Construction Recounting dreams is a popular activity among the interlocking circles of women I met through Mrs Omid. The book. 2004: 128–29). insisting that I take it home and share its contents with my husband.23 But. EIr on ‘Dreams’ and Fischer & Abedi (1990: 40–41. 22 Works on dream interpretation are attributed to the sixth Imam. acting thereby as a channel. and that only persons who are innocent. published in 1992. also Flaskerud on women’s use of the cradle in ritual performances in Shiraz (2005: 83–84. She said the cradle is used for the Muharram street processions and that it is propitious for granting of favours. which also means ‘true’.

Unlike eschatological doctrine. thereby legitimizing her subsequent actions. Rather. She was aware that an interpretation of a dream was not simply a personal opinion. People rarely ascribe selfish motives to dream accounts about saints or see them as exploitative fabrications. dream narratives can acquire performative force. Mrs Omid was more cautious. she undertakes to do far more than he had suggested.108 chapter three By publicly sharing the dreams they choose to tell. She merely indicated in a most general way whether the dream was a good or bad omen. when Goli recounted her dreams to the Ayatollah in Qom. hence ‘unworthy’ establishes the authenticity of her calling more securely. Torab (1998: 341–2) and Kalinock (2003a). For some examples see. compelling action and predicting the future. 25 24 . narrators like Goli convey something about themselves. see Holy (1992: 87). Humility and modesty are valued in the religious sphere. This rapidly increases her fame. Thus.25 As an ‘expert’. She dedicates her house to the infallible saints and sponsors fourteen rituals in their honour in one year instead of only one every fourteen months as suggested by him.26 Having secured his approval.24 Mrs Omid told me once that she had heard (but could not remember the source) that the spirit could detach itself from the body in sleep. but could influence people’s thoughts and subsequent actions. they regard dreams primarily as a channel of communication with the supernatural world. for in the right context. such as “I am only a guide”. The humble self-designation as maidservant. roaming freely and thereby providing the dream experience. he validated them with his interpretation. This makes them compelling. For a similar account. But modesty is only part of a more complex pattern. sometimes using Qur"anic divination (istikhareh). Stories about deceased relatives who come back to visit in dreams to express their state of well-being or make requests are particularly common. dreams have immediacy. Though among themselves the women readily offer their interpretations of a dream and the course of action the person should take if they consider that a dream contained messages. she was frequently asked during or after a jalaseh to comment on dreams. 26 J\drej & Shaw refer to the negotiated character of dream narratives as ‘authorising discourse’ (1992: 10). Mrs Omid herself observed the rules by making unassuming statements.

even though Fatemeh is the only link between the Prophet and the Imams. Goli’s tactical use of her dreams is in no doubt. reconstruct her selfhood and explore new boundaries and limits within which her life could be worked anew. Seyyed are generally traced through the male line. or well to do. which are destined for beggars and the poor. but they are considered to be innocent and pure and are given special privileges. They have rights to a share of the religious taxes (khoms). making claims to being one particularly desirable. or by an item of green clothing. but she seems convinced that she is in fact special. ‘seyyed of the hearth’). cabaret dancers were widely thought to lead licentious lives. Goli uses her dreams to lay claims to being a seyyed through her mother. . Goli’s dreams and the women’s vows confirmed one another. she was faced with an existential dilemma and her life was bound for a radical change. Thus. becoming a basis for Goli to negotiate a new status. seyyede ojagh. or by a black turban in the case of clergymen. but alms (sadagheh. Goli’s dreams became a basis for her claims to being exceptional. Even if the granting of a favour would have occurred irrespective of the vow. lit. which Goli wore on days of 'eyd for all to see. tempting men’s passions. such women are constructed as embodying carnal desire or nafs. The Social and the Individual: Duality of Agency Goli’s dreams occurred at a crucial time of transition. fetriyeh). her narrative becomes a self-perpetuating prophecy. are considered demeaning for them. much like Zuleikha is constructed in the many exegeses of the famous Qur"anic story of Yusuf (al-Yusuf S:12. Seyyed need not be learned. the women attributed it to Goli’s auspicious house. They thereby made it known that the saints favoured them while at the same time adding to Goli’s reputation. In short. These seyyed are designated as seyyed-e tabataba"i (colloq. Seyyed are particularly in demand as propitious channels for supplications and making vows. Not only did the Ayatollah confirm that this is so. especially if both parents are seyyed. She could no longer carry on her profession as a dancer since cabarets were closed down. Even under the Shah. but also each time a vow made at Goli’s house is fulfilled. I came to know who was a seyyed by word of mouth. not so very different to prostitutes. After the revolution. In the religious discourse.the well-adjusted misfit 109 Indeed.

spatial and life crisis changes. the Mahdi instructs Goli to place the hand of her visitors on the sacred cloth in making a vow. light (emerging from deep down in the well) and the ‘right side’ (Goli’s right hand) as common signs for purity and spiritual values stand in contrast to the motifs of menstruation (Goli dreams of the Mahdi during her periods) and darkness (deep down in well) as common signs of impurity and ignorance. A male voice tells Goli that he has put it out of women’s reach on the pulpit (a symbol of male authority) because an ‘impure’ (menstruating) woman has touched it. rescues her from a deep well at a time when she is menstruating (hence in an ‘impure’ state). designating her as his agent. The idea that dreams are not simply individual psychological products. Goli’s dreams appear to deal with the tensions of a situation in which she is caught between conflicting discourses about the self as both ‘pure’ and ‘impure’. based on Lévi-Strauss’ (1963) central concepts of structure (the conceptual framework built from a series of oppositions) and transformation (the operations that myth performs on the structure). Turner’s (1969) rite of passage model is associated with any temporal.110 chapter three see Chapter 1). liminality and reintegration into society in a new status. Goli’s dream narrative is packed with popular signifiers indicating the reconstruction of her selfhood and transition to purity. women must accept their bodies and their selves as subordinate to men as a condition of accessing barakat. The Mahdi. But in the third dream. In the next dream. He instructs Goli to cover it with a protective glass in order to continue her work. but offer insights into the social and cultural dimensions of everyday life is not new in social anthropology. 1983) suggests that dreams can be analysed like myths. They are seen as cultural attempts to review and resolve tensions inherent in the cultural classifications. as cultural attempts to resolve contradictions in the classificatory schemes. and pins a medal on her chest. enabling other women to touch the sacred cloth and benefit from its barakat.28 Goli’s story belongs to 27 Van Gennep (1960) and V.27 The first dream suggests a passage out of darkness. This is different to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. which separates . the sacred cloth disappears and social reality reasserts itself with all its gender disparity. 28 Adam Kuper (1979. The Mahdi takes Goli’s right hand. ignorance and impurity. It suggests that Goli has entered a ‘liminal phase’ as a conduit. In other words. water (the well). The sequence of Goli’s three dreams recalls the rite of passage model of successive stages of separation.

structuralist. Ewing (1990). she asserts her purity and claims the best in life by eliciting affirmation of her self from the uppermost office of religious ranks. . psychological and sociological explanations are not mutually exclusive (George Devreux). As she speaks. in both popular and religious culture.30 Her aspirations even floated in her dreams. Tedlock (1987). analytic process).29 Her ability to survive and deal with the social abuses of gender and class deserves attention. she plays with a row of thick yellow gold bracelets on her wrists. Her dream account is a narrative of how she wants to be placed and to be seen in the context of powerful discourses. (1966). those who decreed her social banishment now endorse her. For various different approaches to dreams (functionalist. a figure such as a cabaret dancer is held accountable for endorsing and not refusing the desires (nafs) of men. Her story is inherently ironic. Moors (1998) on wearing gold as a display of specific social relations. negotiating her status vis à vis myself. “a category of woman whose low and peripheral stature has always helped define the high and socially central by providing its contrast” (1996: 277). Edgar (1997). Gilsenan (2000). she takes pleasure in telling me that among the people who come to her to make vows are ‘important personalities’ such as the wives of top ranking clergymen and the wife of the local prayer leader. In reality. von Grunebaum & Caillos eds. such women are blamed because of daring to choose and define a lifestyle outside the normative moral prescriptions. cultural. one does not set one’s own terms for identification but negotiates one’s subjectivity the unconscious (an egocentric subjective process) from the conscious (logical.the well-adjusted misfit 111 the discussion of the relationship between the social and the individual. Meanwhile. However. More significantly. It can be seen as a means of both individuation and socialisation. As Judith Butler points out. The notion of being acted upon even as one acts is central to Foucault’s ‘techniques of the self ’. Meanwhile. psychological and political economy) see. This inequitable morality makes it all the more understandable that women like Goli crave for respect and recognition. For instance. 29 Cf. a process of dual agency ( J\drej & Shaw 1992:11). J\drej & Shaw (1992). Typically. phenomenological. she is a woman who now colludes with the very system that defined her as ‘low’. as when she dreams she could read the words on the badge that the ‘Lord’ gave her. these men are not in turn held accountable for their desires. the Moroccan dancer (shika) described by Deborah Kapchan as. 30 Cf.

her past and present seem to flow into one another. when a religious discourse dominates. After all. Significantly. but they do not treat her as their social equal. displacing class as the central social problem. They both use and reject her. this simultaneous process of individuation and socialisation may be described as a ‘duality of agency’. To become part of a new social category has less to do with ‘what’ Goli does. The concern here is not so much with the nature of Goli’s choice. Goli’s stigmatization by the women confirms the existence of a boundary by the very fact that she must overstep it. which obscures the power relations that permit that imposition to be successful (1997: Ch. Yet.). publicized stories of ‘born-again repentant’ stars in Egypt merely serve the Islamist discourses of morality. but rather serves to displace it. I saw Goli seated humbly by the door. 8). They donate freely toward her livelihood as a meritorious charitable act. At a mowludi in a neighbouring house. 32 As Abu-Lughod (1995) argues. ignored and marginalized by those who defined their sense of self as ‘respectable and pious’ by maintaining their social distance (cf. Kapchan 1996: 277 op. but ‘how’ she does it. Goli’s ‘repentance’ does not alter the problem of her social background. since both are part of the same process of ‘becoming’ ( J\drej & Shaw 1992: 11–12). An assertive woman with a confident stride and a choice of dress that is by any standard flamboyant. 1993) is that ‘identifications’ are a matter of what one ‘does’ and ‘thus’ 31 This echoes Bourdieu’s notions of ‘symbolic violence’. but the conditions under which her choice could be seen as viable and effective within negotiable limits. The premise of ‘performativity’ (Butler 1990. . but chooses from available markers of power. Goli does not step out of the social discourses. compliance can be rewarding and bring material benefits. participating thereby in the structures of their own domination. cit.32 The pious women who visit her house accept her as part of their moral world and suspend moral judgements. Moore 1994: 65).31 Depending on the perspective of the viewer.112 chapter three through discursive norms and negotiations with ‘vectors of power’ (1993: 105. but harness her labour to serve their own interests. She carries her performative assertiveness from the stage into her new life and is marginalized because of it. She remains a social inferior. even though they seek her favours. which refer to the imposition of the ‘cultural arbitrary’ in such a way that people experience them as legitimate.

As a plausible 33 Cf. They are often presented as everyday events. making manifest the theoretical assumption that identities are fluid. . are based on personal experience.34 Each time. there was a rising sense of despair that flowed from unfulfilled expectations. citizenship and exchange with the divine” (2000: 597). according to which the humble and the disenfranchized were to come first. Her story is not intended to suggest that people became necessarily more pious with the establishment of the Islamic regime. like Goli’s. I heard many other stories of visions of the Mahdi at crucial moments in everyday life. who describes the dream of a peasant woman as. the otherwise inexplicable piece of good fortune is attributed to the Mahdi. Gilsenan.the well-adjusted misfit 113 becomes. Goli’s vision of him in her dreams makes such a possibility manifest. equality and plenty. while others are passed on from mouth to mouth. Millennial Hopes The context of Goli’s story of repentance and dream of the Mahdi is important. Stories about encounters with the Mahdi are not limited to the context of dreams. situational and fundamentally political. Some accounts. from the mundane offer of help by a stranger when stranded or lost in a foreign land. never to coincidence.33 At the time of my research. it demonstrates how individuals position themselves within relations of power and negotiate the world about them. rather than what one ‘is’ and therefore does. The Mahdi appeals to the disenfranchized in particular because he provides hope and strength. but potentially to be defiant and claim the best. Goli draws on her dream experience (the ‘cultural arbitrary’) as a resource to negotiate the world about her. to a dramatic story of rescue from torture. 34 I heard a plethora of stories on the theme of encounters with the Mahdi. Rather. And rather than give in to marginality as her ‘fate’. not merely to endure their lot. Belief in the reappearance of the Mahdi (the ‘Hidden Imam’) when oppression and injustice are at the highest level is a fundamental tenet of Twelver Shi'ism. “part of continuing contests over state and patriarchal authority. These expectations had been raised by the revolutionary promises of justice. Any conjunction of events can be attributed to the Mahdi’s miraculous intervention.

Appeals to supernatural agency are not simply products of cultural ‘beliefs’. Here. hope and hopelessness reinforces belief in supernatural power. they are fundamentally sociological phenomena. they are products of politics and power and thrive at times of general malaise. it is a language of contest and power. To suggest in Marxist terms that millennialism diverts energies from political understanding and action needs to be relativised. As such. the doctrine of the Mahdi is not merely a convenient metaphor for upholding morality. On the relationship between power. Tapper (2000). establish a public sphere where moral order may be renegotiated” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1999: 309). they verified their own theories. who interpret witchcraft in terms of popular moral discourses on illicit power and accumulation of wealth. As Comaroff and Comaroff (1999) argue. through which people seek to divert and control power. Each time they told their stories. The contradictory effects of desire and despair. misery. through which people seek to find explanations for the apparently inexplicable. promise and its perversions. Anderson (1996). rechannel resources. In other words. 35 . but an expression of desire for justice. Gilsenan (2000) Scheper-Hughes (1996) and R. the appeal of the supernatural is grounded in the bewildering situation where everything seems at once possible and impossible. precluding alternative explanations. see Comaroff & Comaroff (1999) and Geschiere (1997). economic inequalities and the increase in conspiracy theories see for instance.114 chapter three and instantly recognizable concept familiar to all. no one questioned their truth. On kindred beliefs in supernatural agencies such as witchcraft in postcolonial Africa. When the women listened to such stories. They are popular modes of “political action. deprivation or poverty. the Mahdi acts as a channel for displaced fears and anxieties and helps to make sense of random and unaccountable novel and disempowering situations.35 The political history of Iran has repeatedly shown the significance of the belief in the Mahdi for bringing about political change (Chapter 1). modernity. nor simply ‘expressions’ of disempowerment. Much like conspiracy theories.

dualistic and mutually exclusive. irrational and selfish. Tapper (1986). R. Tapper (1994). who act as intercessors with God for requests and favours. from which the ceremony derives its name. hence un-Islamic. especially the more ostentatious and imaginative kinds. are dedicated to supernatural spirits or saints. Betteridge (1989: 104. Jamzadeh and Mills (1986: 35. R. defined by men in positions of authority. Adelkhah (1991: 147–48). one of the problems posed in studies of women and gender is how to understand the distinctive expressions apparent in women’s stories. Yet. Underlying this discourse is a strong gender bias and a severe morality that pervades the prescriptive texts. and many earlier contributions in the Anthropological Quarterly (47. convivial votive meals called sofreh-e nazri. religion and ethnicity. since texts have always been historically situated. 108–9). Kalinock (2003 a). 2005 & 2008 forthcoming). The religious establishment may tolerate but does not approve of sofreh. class.1 The meals. It is an established premise in social anthropology that serving and sharing food is a means of constructing and redefining identities such as gender. Tapper & N. Tapper (1983.2 This chapter demonstrates that sofreh is a powerful means whereby women create a unitary iden- 1 Various authors have noted the controversies over sofreh. which are shared with invited guests. Torab (1998: 183–188. which is a meal cloth spread traditionally on the floor. without positing ‘alternative coexisting models’ that see gender as bounded. 424–431. see also Braswell (1975: 160–67). Spellman (2004). 50–55).CHAPTER FOUR THE MORALITY OF SELF-INTERESTED EXCHANGE RITUALS OF INTERCESSION The familiar distinction between formal Islam and its supposed deviations (see Introduction) is particularly salient in the controversies over women’s highly popular. Hedayat (1963). Jansen (1997). rather than as inherently flexible and unstable.1. we need to attend to stories not found in those authored by men. Clearly. Tapper & Zubaida (1994). Varisco (1986). Yamani (1987). N. 1990). . Shokurzadeh (1967). considering these as ‘innovative’ (bed'at) or ‘superstitious’ (khorafat). For descriptions of various sofreh. 1974). normative constructs. 2 See. or simply sofreh. See.

The ‘Gateway to Wishes’ Among the women I knew best. making vows to the saints as intercessors with God was a regular feature of their daily lives. they blur and go beyond the confines of gender boundaries. but produced through specific activities. five are popularly regarded as the most responsive to appeals for favours. For the different senses of the term in Christianity and Islam. . In the process. Tapper 1990: 250). ethics and leadership of the Shi'a community. They are designated the “gateway to favours” (Bab-ol-Hava"ej). despite his more general significance. Imam Husseyn is not among them. He suggests viewing these as ‘polythetic’ (with sporadic resemblances) rather than ‘monothetic’ (with definite features) that risks exclusion of significant features in comparative studies. paradoxically highlighting the contingent nature of gender as something that is not given. also Needham (1975) on the problems of translation of notions that are neither universal nor necessarily homogeneous within the same society.3 It is argued that women draw on powers and capacities that they feminize through their actions to accommodate their claims in a context where discourses of morality vie with those of politics and self-interest. 5 They are Fatemeh. Among the more accessible saints. They are all looked upon as primary role models for morality. Butler (1993: 227–230). The identities they construct for themselves as women are validated by the supernatural context of the ritual itself (cf. also Strathern (1988: 158–159) on creating collective identities in Melanesian ceremonial exchanges as spheres of political agency. N. There are also a host of unidentified supernatural spirits who are not recognized by the religious establishment. his infant girl (Hazrat-e Roqiyeh) and boy (Hazrat-e 'Ali Asghar) and the seventh Imam Musa ibn-e Ja'far (or Musa Kazem). even though ordinary individuals regard them as an existential necessity based on their humanity.116 chapter four tity as ‘women’ as a sphere of political agency.4 Prominent among the Shi'a saints are the twelve Imams. who are the male successors of the Prophet. Husseyn’s half brother (Hazrat-e 'Abbas). 4 The term ‘saint’ has different connotations in Christianity and it is used here merely as a pointer. see Eickelman (1998: 278). See. See.5 Notably. seeking them out at times of crisis for the resolution of problems by the 3 On creating a unitary identity for political claims see.

of relief from financial burdens or debts and housing problems. They also serve the interests of the community at large as exemplars of morality. the underlying assumption in communications with God is a theory of action by God as a result of actions by humans. the saints have a ‘fan of meanings’ that may coexist sometimes in harmony and sometimes in tension with each other. The saints thus may serve individual interests as personal intercessors with God. who argues that for the Spanish community of his study. In times of need. precisely because the diverse. “One simply takes a liking to them just as one does to a friend. we need to pull strings as we do to reach an important person in our daily lives. see also Beeman (1986: 48). ethics and political leadership. granting all kinds of favours. 1967) notion of the ‘multivocal symbol’ is useful here. who told me that. “To reach God. the saints are believed to work miracles. whereby the disempowered find powerful persons to help resolve their problems.the morality of self-interested exchange 117 means of vows. See also Eickelman. relations with the supernatural are similar to those between people (1998: 283). who notes that in Morocco. They are powerful symbols. These were all items on an endless list to be resolved by the intercession of the saints with God. of the resolution of marital disputes. It may be induced by a dream. nonetheless. They are felt to be more likely to reach God than if individuals make appeals directly themselves. 6 .” She indicated thereby that relations with the saints are closely related to ways in which people relate to each other. by a recommendation by others or chosen because of a perceived accessibility and empathy with the problem at hand. meanings can be used for specific situations and in line with the requirements of the individual actors. of help with children’s welfare and education. I heard remarkable stories of cures from terminal illness and infertility. The choice of a saint as a spiritual intercessor with God is influenced by any number of factors.6 As powerful benevolent figures. Vowing is therefore considered very efficacious and propitious (mojjarrab) for obtaining results. Christian (1989).” The perception of a distant God who can be reached more effectively through the saints is comparable to the common practice of lobbying ( parti-bazi) in daily life. This was expressed jestingly by a woman. just as relatives are expected to help each other. even contradictory.7 This On the pervasive lobbying in Iran. Victor Turner’s (1961. individual agency gives way to an idiom of divine providence. they are expected to intercede with God. 7 Cf. A woman said. When problems are resolved.

Specific votive dishes are cooked on religious anniversaries for door-to-door distribution to relatives. at shrine sites. Prevalent for Imam Husseyn’s fortieth (arba'eyn) is a thick soup made with noodles. . consist of the repeated recitation (zikr) of a short verse from the Qur"an. making a vow (nazr kardan) is a form of submission that is intended to generate debt. hava"ej) in return for a ‘votive offering’ (nazri) specified in advance. or the sweet saffron and rosewater-scented rice pudding (shol-e zard) decorated with cinnamon bearing Husseyn’s name. proffering respect to a saint by visiting their shrine. hajat. or simply distributing a mixture of so-called “problem-solving nutmixture” (ajil-e moshgel-gosha) during a ceremony. Offerings vary greatly and may range from the simplest to the most elaborate. beans and whey (ash-e reshteh). Meals are shared with invited guests 8 Jamzadeh & Mills argue similarly that sofreh are statements about the problem of powerlessness and through which people express the conviction that their needs and desires merit divine recognition and support and that the weak do have the means to influence the strong (1986: 55). or for distribution to the wider public. for example. fasting for a specified length of time. friends and neighbours. These are highly convivial. where the votive food is distributed to the poor as a charitable deed for the benefit of the deceased spirits. But the same morality that demands submission to the will of God also empowers those who demand recognition of their needs and aspire to improve their lives and escape the deprivations of class. in mosques or at gravesites. It is a conditional agreement. An offering may. pl.8 Indeed. making a charitable gesture such as giving alms. Significantly. social competence or competitive displays as the case may be. This may be in the form of an open house sofreh held in homes. social affairs that allow for displays of pious virtue.118 chapter four moral framework reinforces the notion of God as sole provider. which works to the benefit of the powerful and the rich. votive dishes are eagerly sought and consumed because they are widely considered imbued with barakat. sofreh are particularly popular with women across class. whereby a person makes a vow to a supernatural agent or saint to intercede with God for a favour (morad. Particularly popular are offerings of votive dishes or food cooked by women themselves to be shared with invited guests at a sofreh. Among all the votive practices. requiring various degrees of money and effort.

The more orthodox disapprove in any case of some of the more creative ceremonies. This type of sofreh often reaches levels of conspicuous display.the morality of self-interested exchange 119 around a meal cloth spread on the floor. although people offer all kinds of explanations. The degree of elaboration and display often corresponds to the perceived stature and significance of the saint in question for the Shi'a community. in particular if they are dedicated to unrecognized supernatural spirits or if they involve dancing and merry making. therefore. They were each held on a Tuesday morning. Very often. wealth. the serious and the joyful are combined. They are generally allfemale activities. a wide spectrum of possibilities. as in the case of the one described below. dedicated to two supernatural spirits called Lady Houri and Lady 9 See. taste and status in religious terms. men generally take part indirectly as sponsors. becoming a means of social distinction. Votive meals offer. He is held in high esteem for his exceptional bravery in sacrificing his life at the battle of Karbala fetching water for Husseyn’s thirsting infants. asking women to act on their behalf as mediators of their vows. Betteridge (1989: 150–52). but female preachers are rarely asked to preside over the ceremony. Although participation of both sexes is reported among the middle classes. . or it may be joyous. This variety is reportedly common among the rural and urban poorer sections of society. whose marginalized status corresponds to the peripheral or ambiguous status of the supernatural spirits themselves. The simplest consist of bread. The most lavish votive meals are dedicated to the prominent saints. such as the sofreh dedicated to Imam Husseyn’s infant girl Hazrat-e Roqiyeh. with recitations from the Qur"an or the chanting of dirges. Jamzadeh & Mills (1986: 42). I attended three votive sofreh at a house in a working class quarter of south Tehran. There are many sofreh varieties. cheese and fresh herbs.9 The occasion may be more or less subdued. Female cantors may be invited to perform mowludi or rowzeh to provide the ambience and mood appropriate to a religious ceremony. involving dancing and merry making. or to unidentified supernatural spirits (described below). each associated with a particular saint. such as Imam Husseyn’s brave half-brother Hazrat-e 'Abbas. validating and legitimising relative prosperity.

No one explained the long delay in fulfilling his pledge and I did not ask. 11 Cf. Significantly. he had phoned his mother. while the third is held in abeyance (gerow) until after the request is granted. which I made with the permission of the woman presiding over the sofreh. The procedure of this votive sofreh is to sponsor three meals. but speculate that it might have been due to financial hardship. The description below closely follows my field notes and tape recordings. Although Mrs Omid disapproved of this sofreh as particularly innovative. two of which must be held before the fulfilment of the vow. identified variously as the Prophet’s daughters. It is a variant of one identified as being of common rural origin.10 The women themselves identified the supernatural Ladies as the daughters of the seventh Imam Musa ibn-e Ja'far. (Torab 2005. For further variants. her mother Khadijeh and Zeynab. Jamzadeh & Mills (1986) for an analysis of the description by Shokurzadeh (1967).11 I went with Mrs Omid’s daughter Mariam. when he worked as a medical assistant with the Red Crescent. See also. based on a third party account called “Soup for the Lady of Wishes” (ash-e bi-bi morad ) performed by Ismaili women in Eastern Iran. one of whom is called Lady Tuesday (Bibi Seshanbeh). Both of them were convinced that the success of the cousin’s hip surgery was due to the vow she made to the two supernatural Ladies. see Mills (1982. 10 A variant described by Shokurzadeh (1967) in a collection of Iranian folklore is dedicated to three supernatural spirits. See also. The one described below was sponsored by one son in fulfilment of a vow he made some years ago during the war with Iraq (1980–88). 1985). the sponsors were two sons of the hostess. who had asked permission for us to attend the sofreh at a neighbour’s house in south Tehran. who is one of the “gateways to favours”. and for a comparative analysis. Just before going to the front. see Kalinock (2003 a). Mariam argued that it would be instructive for me to see such a variant. We were accompanied by Mariam’s distant cousin. and 2008 forthcoming). . The sofreh presented here first appeared in Torab (1998). thereby implicitly laying claim to recognition by the religious establishment. whereby lower ranking castes in India change their rituals to resemble those associated with the higherranking castes in order to stake out a claim for higher status. or as Fatemeh.120 chapter four Light (Bibi Hur and Bibi Nur). Srinivas (1966) on the notion of ‘sanskritization’. asking her to make a vow to the supernatural Ladies for his safe return. All three sofreh that I attended followed the same procedure.

She believed they were the daughters of the seventh Imam. It is nine o’clock in the morning. Bread cheese and herbs were added for us to save face (hefz-e 'aberu). I later heard that only kachi was necessary for this sofreh. In effect. the long queues for buying basic foods and the daily price increases due to the food rationing current at this time. Presiding over the ceremony from the head of the meal cloth is a middle-aged woman with a strong Turkish accent. The conversation revolves on the cost of living. a sweet saffron and rosewater scented paste made with flour tossed in oil. . The boy sits at a separate meal cloth in the adjoining room with his mother and the hostess. who was himself unjustly imprisoned. All lobbying to secure his release had failed until she appealed to the supernatural Ladies. Subsequently. and then serves us tea.the morality of self-interested exchange A Votive Meal Dedicated to Lady Houri and Lady Light 25 Rajab 1413 AHQ/19 January 1993 121 It is a humble house situated at the end of a narrow street in an old. The hostess receives us warmly. the men asked her to perform the sofreh on their behalf whenever they encountered problems in their daily lives. He was sentenced for life imprisonment for his alleged communist sympathies. but not in the adjoining room where the boy was seated. Mrs Parvin inaugurates the ceremony formally in the name of God. She had no doubt that her cause had found sympathy with them for that reason. but first asks the lights to be turned out in our room. The display of social competence seemed important for preserving dignity and pride in times of hardship. all neighbours from the same street. She later explained that the presence of the opposite sex was not permitted and this was a means of excluding the boy from this all-female activity. offers us seats with the other guests around the sofreh spread on the floor. The hostess had almost cancelled the ceremony early that morning due a shortage of fresh herbs until some had been found at the last minute and they all helped prepare it in time for our arrival. a small girl and a boy of about seven. cheese. The guests consist of fifteen women. Spread before us on a clean white meal cloth are bread. fresh herbs and small china bowls covered with a plate and containing kachi. run down quarter of south Tehran. Mrs Parvin lives in the same street and explains to me that the men in their street began to believe in the powers of the supernatural Ladies after the miraculous release of her own brother from the Shah’s gaol.

His second wife came with two daughters. Once again. She came upon a ruin where two women were cooking kachi. he had to take another to make ends meet. ‘for the sponsor of the present ritual’. What follows is a slightly shortened version of a carefully translated transcription of a recording I made with Mrs Parvin’s permission.” The poor man had to agree. The girl went to the fields again but the same events recurred. neither of whom liked his own daughter. everything they had told her had come true. ‘for the spirits of all the deceased’.122 chapter four she was gendering a pre-pubescent boy who by implication was in an ‘ambiguous’ gender state. which is dedicated to the twelve Imams. “I am sending the girl to the pastures with some sheep. ‘for the happiness of the spirit of Fatemeh’. This time they told her that they were called Lady Houri and Lady Light. but when his wife died. but a windstorm scattered all the wool and she lost the animals. the sheep and the sack of wool to the pastures. The girl took the cow. there lived a thorn digger (khar-kan). The stepmother did not believe that the girl had completed the task on her own and told her to repeat it. ‘for the health of those seated around the meal cloth’. 10 for other reports of similar versions of the story. Mrs Parvin then solemnly narrates a story while we sit quietly listening in the dark. If she loses any of them she must not return. but significantly also ‘for the cook’. She wept bitterly as she went wandering around in search of the animal. followed by a string of salavat. She began to spin the wool while the animals went grazing. she recites an intercessionary supplication (do'a-ye tavassol). 13 See. ‘for any Moslems that are ill’. . she would encounter the Shah’s son and his vizier 12 The religious rules of gender avoidance (mahramiyat). Fn. The stepmother grumbled constantly about her stepdaughter and one day she told him. When the girl returned. jealous of her beauty. ‘for the debt of all debtors’. The Story of Lady Houri and Lady Light13 In the distant past. which regulate interaction between the sexes. introduced themselves as daughters of the seventh Imam and asked her to dip her finger in the kachi and eat from it. He had a wife and a daughter. They asked her why she wept and when they heard her story.12 Pausing for complete silence. they told her not to worry and to return home where she would find the cow and the sheep and the sack of wool already spun. Then they told her that on her way back. set in only after adolescence (see Chapter 6). a cow and a sack full of wool to spin. initiated by her and then in turn by the others in the following order: ‘For the Lord of the Ages’. she found the two women cooking kachi. who made a living out of collecting dried shrubs for firewood.

everyone carefully examines the surface for any traces that Mrs Parvin says the supernatural Ladies might have left as we listened to the story. Since begging would be inappropriate in her new status.the morality of self-interested exchange 123 who were out hunting. Before consuming the sweet paste. We follow each request with loud rounds of salavat in praise of all saints. The prince was accused of murder and sent to gaol for a long time. The flour had to be obtained by begging for it from seven houses with virgin girls called Fatemeh. The girl remembered that she must fulfil her vow and set out seven portions of flour and began to cook the kachi. The wedding lasted seven nights and seven days. He got into a rage. which I am told is now imbued with barakat. a leaf. whereupon the prince was released from gaol. for the well being of the community. A cock sat on the oven and started to crow. A windstorm covered him with dust and he lost his companions. we are allowed to lift the saucers from the bowls containing the saffron and rosewater scented kachi. One day he dreamed of the ‘Two Ladies’ who explained to him that his wife was fulfilling her vow and that he should have asked her why she was cooking before reacting in the way he did. The prince sent a message to his mother who did as requested by him and the girl was able to cook the kachi. such as an Allah. One day.” When the girl returned home. for decent housing and for the means to visit the shrines of Imam Husseyn and his infant daughter Hazrat-e Roqiyeh. They instructed that she must then cook kachi three times. The prince had put two melons in his saddlebag. but since it was the wrong time of day to crow. he saw her cooking kachi again. with requests for the release of all innocent prisoners. the vizier got suspicious. and surprisingly also for the cook. The prince began to spy on his wife and her strange habits. and the next day they came to ask for her hand. fulfil my vow. all that the two women had foretold came true. but one woman is disappointed because she finds no marks on her kachi. she would be allowed to divide seven portions of flour on the stove and each time repeat “Oh Fatemeh. She met the prince and the vizier on the way. Then he left angrily to go hunting. The stepmother quickly hid her in the oven. When he reached the city-gates. a pear and a candle. They told him that he could be released if his mother apologized to her daughter-in-law and let her fulfil her vow. The prince’s mother was angry that she was doing the cooking instead of the servants and complained to her son for choosing a beggar’s daughter. To another woman . kicked the kachi. dressed up her own two ugly girls and presented them to the prince. the guards did not recognize him and insisted on searching him. the stove and the girl so hard that her blood spouted over his clothes. With the lights turned back on. searched the stove and found the girl they had come for. but the guards found two severed heads instead. She identifies various auspicious signs. The prince would fall in love with her and would ask where she lived so he could come back to ask for her hand and then marry her. Mrs Parvin concludes her story with a string of supplications to God and the seventh Imam. on his way hunting.

“Oh God. With that.” says one of the women confidently and Mrs Parvin undertakes to carry it out on her behalf. before the first sofreh.” On a more cheerful note she concludes. Oh God.” Turning to my bowl. On our next visit. The conversation then turned to accounts of propitious vows and of the women’s desire to visit the shrines of their favourite saints. who were among the less prominent female saints. An acquaintance of hers had become embroiled in a street fight and was about to be arrested when someone offered votive dates. One woman swears by the distribution of dates dedicated to Ommol Bani (mother of Hazrat-e 'Abbas) as particularly effective for matchmaking and settling disputes.” Another woman calls out. she offered Mrs Parvin a sum of money that she and her cousin thought would be sufficient for the expenses of three sofreh. which she says is particularly propitious for making a vow.500 Toman. without demanding any fees for herself. Fatemeh-Zahra is both 14 The sum agreed was 2. a trip to Karbala has such an effect on one. also with tearful eyes. Musa-ibn-e Ja'far. only one sofreh would be sufficient. grant everyone their favours. Making up for my ineptitude. Hazrat-e Zeynab. Mariam obtained the mortgage soon after. Mariam declares that she would like to sponsor three similar sofreh to ensure success for her application for a mortgage.14 Mrs Parvin felt the offer was ungenerous. As it turned out. . following which the charges were dropped with offers of apology. one of the women invokes the saints with tearful eyes. “Any requests that come from our street are always granted. Overcome with emotion. “Give Mrs Parvin’s son a mini-bus so that he can take us all on pilgrimage to the shrine of Hazrat-e Roqiyeh in Kazemeyn [in Iraq]. she identifies letters resembling the name Mohammad. I was transformed. “When I returned from Karbala. in which case the sum on offer would suffice. but suggested that since the request had already been granted. the matter was settled amicably without further discussion. equivalent to about $US 15 at open market rates (US$1 = 160 Tuman). “I can see two hands. You must have made a vow to sponsor a sofreh in order to be hand in hand with the seventh Imam.124 chapter four Mrs Parvin says. I did not realize that this was an invitation for me to sponsor a similar sofreh. how I love you.

Collective Identification Fairy tales are similar to myths. Mills (1982) identifies the story as a combination of “510A Cinderella” and “480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls. implying that expectations determine the outcome even if it is attributed retrospectively to the saint. Its simplicity conceals complexities that invite multiple readings. The earnest style Mrs Parvin adopts as she tells the story. As no exegesis of the story of Lady Houri and Lady Light seems forthcoming. ‘My liver roasts’ ( jegaram kabab misheh). with food offering as a .16 She explains that it is all about ‘the heart’s intent’ (be niyyat-e del.the morality of self-interested exchange 125 the mother and the lady of the world. but she only supplies a few more details. such as the requirement to recite prayers and salavat while stirring the kachi over the stove and that the cooking had to be done in a darkened kitchen away from the sight of men. also hope.17 A similar version is analyzed in terms of the 15 She used the phrase. but they are often allegories of gender relations deeply rooted in the social realities of the people themselves. she feels as though she is visiting the shrine.”15 Mrs Parvin tells me that she keeps a little bit of the shrine dust (khak-e torbat) of Hazrat-e Sekineh with her prayer-tablet (mohr) and during her daily prayers. so that she can make vows for favours. omid). the intense concentration of her women listeners. a popular expression of passion. They may be fictitious. 17 More specifically. despite having heard the story many times before. sparked off no doubt by the story.” examining it for its role in an all-Ismaili Muslim ceremony called ash-e bibi murad. 16 Hazrat-e Sekineh is one of the daughter of Imam Husseyn. The story has been identified as a “Cinderella” variant (Mills 1982). Mrs Parvin’s story of the supernatural female spirits was not meant to be mere entertainment. reputed for her strong will as well as beauty (Mernissi 1996). all can be taken as a reliable indicator of how the story was received and understood. and continued until midday when we left. These details only made sense later when I examined the story more closely (see below). I ask Mrs Parvin to provide one. and the subsequent conversations triggered by it. The ensuing conversation turned to the familiar themes of spouse selection and marital injustices related to women’s daily lives.

matchmaking and magical enchantment. For instance.19 It portrays women inhabiting a world governed by the conventional female arts of nurture. who compete over the control of men as fathers. however. wives and mothers. have no real effect on the women’s lives. . while strong women are portrayed as evil. husbands or sons. including the supernatural Ladies as surrogate mothers. The prince is not.126 chapter four themes of female power. 10 for other studies of similar sofreh stories. creating thereby a new world which offers freedoms denied in the real world (2004: 47). Male brutality and violence is suggested by the severed heads in the prince’s saddlebag and when he kicks the stove (a female symbol) resulting in spouts of blood (possibly symbolising ‘defloration’ of a virgin bride). solidarity. The gender relations in the story thus revolve on relations of power between women themselves rather than on relations of power between men over the control of women. It demonstrates the powers and strengths of women as daughters. edited invariably by men. obedience and submission promoted as feminine values. or as brutal and abusive. but then neglects the welfare of his daughter under the influence of his powerful wife. as well as mutual help and humility in times of need. Men. the instructions of the supernatural Ladies to beg for flour and divide it in seven portions suggests the necessity for self-reliance and domestic prudence. Thus. the widowed father must remarry to make ends meet. Azar Nafisy likens great works of fiction to fairy tales as life affirming because the author takes control and retells reality. humility. The feminist critique of classical collections of folk and fairy tales. generosity and dependency on divine providence ( Jamzadeh & Mills 1986:44–49).18 Mrs Parvin’s story challenges such values. 19 In her discussion of Nabokov’s “Lolita” to her University students in Tehran. The focus of her story is on resolute female figures and the struggles they face in defining their lives. See. although present in the story. also Fn. to which the women listeners could easily relate. Women and not men define and govern women’s lives. The men are portrayed either as weak or absent. feminine agency and the symbolism of votive food in terms of the female principle of fertility. 18 See the critiques by Angela Carter (1998) and Jack Zipes (1989). reveals the portrayal of women as passive prizes for daring princes. portrayed petition to a saint called ‘The Lady of Wishes’ (Bi-bi Murad ). I explore the story’s focus on gender relations. with beauty. plotting. but in each case dependent on the women.

the story exposes men’s foibles and their failure to rise to the standards they have set themselves. This must be seen in the context of women’s role as guardians of familial status. if men do regard women as superficial. on whom he then depends for his release from gaol. they also recognize their worth in specific contexts. by implication with a second wife. By helping men to resolve their problems. women can in turn strengthen their own positions when negotiating their relations with men.the morality of self-interested exchange 127 as a villain. In retelling them. meant by implication as a comment on the prince’s selfish act of seeking a love marriage. This portrayal of men must be seen in tandem with the conversations that ensued after the story. but neither do they allow these laws to go unchallenged. was forced to take on extra domestic duties to be able to raise her children during her husband’s frequent absences. It resembles the story of the prince who seeks forgiveness from his wife who. but as merely naïve. Clearly. They interpret the laws in ways that address their own concerns and resort . but for her determination and resolution. Marital injustice was another conversation topic. and they may uphold the laws defined by men. held up as a lesson to be heeded and learned. who was an able seamstress. This demonstrates men’s insecurity when faced with women’s spell-casting potency and their dependence on women’s access to the supernatural when problems arise in their daily lives. Thus. Though powerful by office. Those seated around the sofreh must have heard these stories many times. he is under the influence of his mother who plots and urges him to spy on his bride. A neighbour. not affectionate ones. They may not question the justice of gender hierarchy. in turn. The women in her street had rallied around supportively. The women indicated their preference for goodness rather than beauty and for prudent matches. is rewarded. She was now old and paralysed and regretted her lost youth. confronting the husband for sorely neglecting his duty to provide. the women affirm that the strict performance of domestic duties ensures the moral high ground. impulsive and easily manipulated by his mother. but that they challenge forced submission to extra domestic work and male tyranny and abuse of power. One theme concerned the topic of spouse selection and the problems of a love marriage as opposed to an arranged one. transforming thereby ‘domestic’ activity into political agency. however. not for being docile or submissive. Women use their ritual networks to inquire into familial histories to ensure strategic alliances to strengthen their own positions.

This power is not based on domination. Kapchan (1996: 235–75) for women’s recourse to magic as an empowering resource for controlling men’s nafs. As Abu-Lughod (1993: 19) says. . for those who are ‘fed’ become dependants. as I heard elsewhere. fortitude and resolution. symbolically represented by votive food imbued with barakat. They honour the cook with rounds of salavat. ensuring that men and pregnant women. Hence. Their implicit self-projection is strength. the use of herbs to control men’s nafs when faced with illicit polygamy. A key premise of nurture is the possibility of influencing and controlling others. These included cooking the votive dish in a dark kitchen away from the sight of men. as was the prince for spying on his wife when she was cooking the votive dish. the institution of polygamy can backfire and is not the pleasure for husbands that Western fantasies about harem suggest. The point to stress here is that through these stories and conversations. This includes. such as when men fail to first obtain their wife’s permission.20 Stories such as these are very different from the prescriptive texts that demand women’s unquestioning obedience to men.128 chapter four to any means at their disposal to deter abuse of authority by men. which she expressed symbolically by various boundary-maintaining devices. They are telling stories about themselves and the challenges that they face. 1997). The details supplied to me later by Mrs Parvin emphasized excluding men from this female realm of cooking and nurture. the women learn the rewards to be gained by keeping cooking and nurture under their sole jurisdiction. Men who encroach on women’s domain are punished. the women are in fact teaching each other the art of survival. On laws and practices regarding polygamy see. but a power that makes things grow. The exclusion of men from the realms of cooking and nurture reflects an anxiety about relinquishing a ‘domestic’ power that women can manipulate to their advantage. the boy child who had to sit at another sofreh. While portraying the weakness of men. 20 See also. like infants (Carsten 1995. the story dwells on women’s strengths and capacities. in case the unborn infant is male. Above all. Haeri (1989). ate a kachi that had been cooked separately. do not consume the dish. This message is well understood and heeded by those seated around the meal cloth.

Rosewater and saffron. rather than ritual merely reflecting ideas already present. smell.the morality of self-interested exchange 129 The Symbolism of Renewal and Fecundity: Food as a Channel for Barakat As a noun. she remembered her deceased mother and said. All food is considered God’s gift or barakat. Bell (1992: 15). which people identify in terms of bounty. As an intransitive verb (tabarrok shodan. The regenerative associations of votive dishes are underlined by the fact that they are cooked for key moments of renewal and transition such as birth. Rosewater is mixed with saffron and used to write prayers on the shroud. the combination of saffron and rosewater tossed in oil with flour gives rise to a fragrant aroma. See. which some people prepare for themselves. which one woman said alerts the dead that they are being remembered. In effect. prosperity. well-being and so on. the key ingredients of sweet votive dishes (such as halva. death or life crises. as you know. Symbols cannot be understood apart from the context in which they arise. which can be transmitted to anyone who partakes of that food. Don’t serve halva when I 21 Hubert & Mauss (1964) demonstrated long ago that ritual activity sacrilizes things. shole zard and kachi ) are themselves highly recommended by religious source books such as Majlesi (1991). to imbue with barakat). Taking a small spoon of halva offered to her. rosewater is often sprayed over the body for the daily prayers and for recitations of the Qur"an. women transform food through the actions they undertake (the recitations of salavat and prayers. loved ice cream and she always told me. for example) so that it becomes a potent channel for barakat. When cooking halva for the dead. barakat corresponds broadly to the notion of grace or blessing. people or events. barakat is transformative and can be transferred to any person by contagion. Mrs Omid made light of such ideas.21 Votive dishes are therefore particularly popular and the ritual participants are given the opportunity to take some home to share with other members of their household. or it can be somatized through ingestion and the senses (sight. touch). good fortune. sound. . but ritual food is distinguished conceptually from other food and talked about in the intransitive mode as ‘becoming imbued with barakat’ (tabarrok shodan) in the ritual context. “My mother. For example. both of which are considered as rites of renewal.

taste or colour. a votive dish associated with Fatemeh’s craving during pregnancy called samanu is made from germinating wheat using a particularly laborious process. This is underlined further by the implicit linkages to Fatemeh. Similarly. silencing alternative conceptions. Votive dishes are thus strongly suggestive of the female principle of fertility. who is the prime symbol of fertility as “mother of all Imams”. An obvious analogy can be made between germinating grain and the swelling of the womb (Bourdieu 1992: 116). swelling grains of the women’s sofreh dishes. Strathern states that. although people often say that the votive dishes are merely customary and that the ingredients are used for their fragrance.22 They compete over conceptions of social regeneration that men have always defined with narratives of blood and paternity. through which they lay claims to the reproduction of the human. genetics or blood alone do not necessarily account for mutual terms of obligation. Op. In the story of Lady Houri and Lady Light. we can set the Karbala story centred on the model of Abraham’s paradigmatic act of sacrifice. 1997). 23 22 . but that ties of ‘quasi’ kinship may be created through ritual. The more recent anthropological focus on nurturance adds complexity to the initially simple picture of genealogy and blood. See. As Carol Delaney (1986) argues. Moore 1999: 28). Against the fecund. natural and cosmological worlds (cf. serve ice cream instead’. feeding and sharing of barakat.” But. seven virgin girls called Fatemeh supply the flour for the kachi and ideally.23 Representations of sofreh by the religious establishment as selfish acts obscure both the strong underlying sense of renewal associated with women’s fecund dishes and a female capacity to nurture and create life.130 chapter four die. cit Strathern (1988) and Butler (1993). but that substances such as food also play a determining role. they do not dispute their regenerative power. they should consume the dish. In terms of a gender symbolism of renewal and fecundity women’s votive sofreh express a collective agency in terms of women’s experience of their bodies. Recent studies of personhood show that social identity is not only tied to the metaphor of blood as a relationship. Carsten (1995. a detail Mrs Parvin later added. This recourse to a coherent identity category allows them to make political claims beyond the ‘domestic’ realm. and Eickelman (1998: 147). the narrative of paternity has always positioned the male as the sole creator. The contrast with establishment notions of renewal is marked. who referring to M.

the paramount intention being to submit to divine will. expressions of intention (niyyat). Chapter 5). 25 See. has further political implications.25 In terms of symbolism and structure. also R. Tapper & N. The Prescriptive Texts: Vows and Inequalities The story of the supernatural Ladies. It need not be linked to the shedding of blood.24 Sacrifice is of course a ‘polythetic category’. though no overt political statement are made. as Nancy Tapper (1983) argues. a mere pointer to a cluster of phenomena contained within a wider family of rituals (Needham 1975). This is a rag to riches story. 26 There is a semantic link between the Arabic root for ‘sacrifice’ (qorbani. Introduction & Chapter 5). Jay (1992). which means ‘proximity’. sacrificial offering and its consumption (Hubert & Mauss 1964). involving consecration. Valerie (1985: 113 ff. A victim of social and class-based injustices is 24 Abraham’s classic model of sacrifice has held the attention of various scholars. dedication to the saints and communal consumption of the food as a channel for barakat. Any form of offering can substitute the sacrificial victim. Anthropological theories see sacrifice as communication with the divine.26 However.the morality of self-interested exchange 131 which is linked to paternity and the political authority of men (see. See for instance. ‘q-r-b’). and the root for ‘seeking intercession’ (tavassol ‘v-s-l’). See. Combs-Schilling (1989). Delaney (1998).). It comes therefore as no surprise that the relationship of women’s sofreh rituals to broader notions of societal renewal and fecundity has not had the same attention as the men’s rituals for Imam Husseyn’s martyrdom during Muharram (see. and conversations that ensued. which means to ‘unite’ as distinct from brokerage (dalal-i) in the secular market. as in the classic model of sacrifice. Bonte et al.’s (1999) collection of both female and male sacrificial practices in Islamic contexts. sofreh bear obvious parallels to sacrificial rites. . establishing thereby a link between the mundane and the sacred. gender constructions obscure women’s relation to sacrificial acts dominated by Abraham’s paradigmatic model. where a peasant girl marries a prince and where super human effort is required to cross the boundaries of class. There is an offering of food. Tapper (1986: 67) on sacrificial meals among the Durrani Pashtuns as part of vows (nazr).

becomes a political motive and a force for change (2000: 111). who themselves inhabit an ambiguous. See. promising reward in the hereafter. Fischer and Abedi (1984) for a translation of Khomeini’s book of precepts. 28 Khomeini’s book of precepts (ketab-e ahkam) contains twenty-nine rules for vowing under the relevant section (ahkam-e nazr). 1989). Lewis (1996.132 chapter four re-presented ideally as being above class. . These ideas are grounded in an ideology of worldly restraint and reward in the afterlife. Carolyn Steedman argues that within Western religious and political thought. Vowing for material favours or ‘selfish ends’ is condemned as self-indulgent. by opposing it to an ‘imaginary’ relation of equality. the rules authorize vowing in terms of a charitable deed or as an expression of dependency on divine providence. because desire. This is a first step toward defining legitimate authority and obedience to the calls for restraint in women’s sofreh practices. promise the listeners an “imaginary experience” (Bourdieu 1997:64). who correlates the peripheral zar spirits with women’s marginality. hence peripheral status among the saints. Significantly.29 Preachers often say that vowing should be a means of approaching God and honouring the established saints. translated by Fisher and Abedi (1984).27 The story does not trace social misery to a political source. This notion is particularly suited to an ideology that tells people to be happy with their lot. Vowing is governed by distinct rules (ahkam-e nazr) written in the book of precepts by the leading Ayatollahs for lay people. This makes the women’s convivial votive meals vehicles for ideas that defy the prescriptive texts that warn them not to make vows for ‘selfish’ ends. and so of possibility. or else the vow is null and void. I. one of the many rules about vowing specifically prescribes that women must obtain the permission of their husbands for making vows. moralized as sin and defined as an “improper covetousness of that to which one has no right”. rule number 2644 in Khomeini’s book of precepts. which promotes an imaginary ethos of equality. envy as a political motive has long been condemned. her status conferred by merit rather than by birth. 30 See. if unleashed.30 Underlying this rule 27 Cf. But in effect.28 More generally. the women confront their lived world of inequalities. where the social world offers equal possibilities for everyone. The two supernatural female spirits.M. materialistic and giving free reign to envy and desire or nafs. 29 Interestingly.

by implication. Such oblique asides helped maintain a critical awareness.the morality of self-interested exchange 133 is the construct that men are more rational than women and that women are more susceptible to envy and excessive desire. such as decent housing or simply the means to travel to a favourite shrine. but to which they feel they have a right.31 Vowing rules are thus inherently biased against women. This is a good example of how the moral economy helps sustain the political economy. Even Mrs Omid sought to tutor her women followers to minimize excess in sofreh practices. is not evidence of a selfish desire for luxury. . sofreh are being marginalized by the more austere jalaseh. the continuing popularity of sofreh among women who themselves live in material distress is an implicit rejection of calls for restraint by the religious establishment. In reality. Nonetheless. Her reference to bribing was. a criticism of wider social corruption and moral collapse. She once said: “Our Imams cannot be bribed”. It is an expression of their aspirations and a desire to escape the deprivations of class. serving the interests of those in positions of authority who fail to provide the material necessities of life for those they govern. But this reflected her genuine anxiety over the increasing economic hardship. Far from resigning to injustice. corresponding to the gendered discourse of 'aql and nafs. they act upon it in terms of the concepts or religious symbols in which they believe. they not only make claims about themselves and their piety. apparently criticizing the lavish sofreh dedicated to Hazrat-e 'Abbas. This in turn raises expectations. the women’s vows to the supernatural Ladies represent a desire for change and envy for the things they are denied. commensurate with his stature and rank in Imam Husseyn’s army. Their requests for things beyond their means. They also deny the reality of other social and material exclusions. With each telling. In this context. Strathern’s (1989) analysis of Hagen gender imagery in terms of ‘self interest’ and ‘social good’. there has been an increase in religious tutoring and sobriety. but also underline their own beliefs in the efficacy of their vows and the supernatural mediating agents. Stories of successful vows are good stories to tell when the women are seated around the meal cloth. Ever since the establishment of the Islamic regime. which 31 Cf.

Indeed. for whom these convivial meals provide other possibilities. . but these are moralised in terms of other worldly 32 Cf. is not to be mixed with the market (madiyat). In practice. these concepts need to be viewed as ‘value regimes’. 33 The concept “regimes of value” is from Appadurai. Sofreh are also popular among the prosperous middle classes. because the goods consumed are moralized (2005: 268). contextual and depend on individual perspectives. In the process.32 Thus women. Boundary Transgression: Self-interest and Morality Vowing to saints as intercessors with God suggests a particular kind of morality that mixes morality with the realm of the market. who in the light of Bourdieu’s (1986) theory of distinction through consumption and taste among social classes in France. because the degree of value coherence is highly variable. argues that among the Yemeni elite. consumption is a marker of distinction precisely because it (and thus taste) is moralized. which is associated with 'aql. distinction is moralized. But vows are not simply a function of economic deprivation.134 chapter four are in themselves powerful for dealing with adversity and are far removed from a passive acceptance of their ‘lot’ as fate. no matter how lavish these may be.33 For example. It consists of an exchange between humans and the supernatural. which belongs to the realm of nafs. such as the Mafatih. are themselves full of economic equations quantifying merit and penance for all activities. But the religious texts are clear that the realm of morality (ma'naviyat). though divided by social circumstances or class. who refers to Bohannan’s (1955) classic model of ‘spheres of exchange’ from which he has developed the concept (1992: 14–15). whereby offerings are made conditional on receiving favours. because the sofreh and the food consumed are moralized. such as distinction within their social group and a means of legitimising relative prosperity in religious terms. In other words it is a form of submission intended to generate debt. reveal themselves as self determining agents who work against the prevailing ideology that tells them not to make vows for ‘selfish’ ends. the religious books. Gabriel vom Bruck. the women blur the gendered boundaries of self-interest and common good set by the prescriptive texts. These ends in effect help the self and others whose needs or benefits are being sought.

corresponding to visiting etiquette among social equals. but what they symbolically represent through the specific actions they undertake. which in turn generate further social exchanges that continue even after the fulfilment of a vow. Return visits (did-o-baz-did) are seen as a moral obligation. Their actions are not intended to be selfish. It safeguards sharing and prepares the ground for companionship and supportive networks. Their concern extends to the spirit of the deceased with offerings of “gifts of spiritual merit” (hediyeh-ye savab) in the form of salavat. Tapper (1986: 67).34 Food sharing is a key symbol of equality and striving for harmony. the notion of intent reconciles economic inequality with egalitarian ideals. Failure to reciprocate a visit may indicate status imbalance. but insist on the primacy of intent (niyyat). who also note that in host/guest relations among the Durrani Pashtuns. Votive food may be shared by door-to-door distributions. cooking halva or by way of alms (kheyrat) and distributions of food at gravesites. . The controversy over sofreh is thus not about the denigration of ‘women’. The votive contract is therefore quite 34 Gell favours the use of the economic concept of ‘opportunity costs’—in the sense of evaluating given possibilities in relation to each other—to maximising selfinterest in social theory (1996: Chapter 27). however. in the form of sofreh held open-house or for invited guests. In reality.35 Supplications offered at the sofreh for the health and vitality of the community at large show that the women have the interests of others in mind as well as their own. Nor can a moral discourse based on disinterest or ‘pure gift’ serve those with limited options. The women do not themselves see their votive practices in terms of either selfinterest or disinterest.the morality of self-interested exchange 135 gains. The women’s sofreh. 35 On the social implications of food sharing see. women are blamed because they overstep the boundaries of morality and the market. To compare women’s votive practices with a crude economic model of maximizing self-interest and rational choice presupposes the existence of equal choice for all. are condemned because they are regarded being overtly concerned with material goals and with prestige. Successful vows generate further vows and more sofreh. Tapper & N. Anyone attending can call on a saint for requests. Individuals shape their aspirations according to what seems accessible and possible. R. where inequalities of status are inevitable. even if they do pursue ‘selfish’ ends.

But even so. including men. Fulfilled vows become. Religious expenditure can be linked to considerable political influence and power. sponsors add to their stock of ‘symbolic capital’ (Bourdieu 1992: 171–183). women serve their own interests. rather than. The rich are therefore doubly rewarded. harmony and communal ethos. they are occasions for the display of social competence. or else be deemed niggardly and selfish. For instance. thus bolstering their reputation for piety. benefiting also other members of the household. such as the one dedicated to the supernatural Ladies. Simpler sofreh. Consistent with Mauss (1954). Here. The presence of others is needed to complete and authenticate the votive exchange (Braswell 1975: 179). Those who are able are expected to make ceremonial expenditures appropriate to their wealth. sofreh are a prime example of the way in which humans enter into relational debts with each other and with the saints through canons of hospitality and food. Their wealth is transformed into generosity. where social relations end when the contract ends. one that Mrs Omid always condemned. sponsors of votive meals inevitably derive spiritual reward (ajr) and merit (savab). are expressly non-competitive.136 chapter four unlike a contractual agreement in the market. who asserts that a gift always implies (but never assures) a return. This benefits the rich more than others. but also those of others. because their wealth is moralized and thus legitimized. These are done in a spirit of equality. which reaps spiritual reward and prestige. Mrs Parvin was able to establish herself as a ritual specialist following the success of the vows to the supernatural Ladies. The involvement of others in the votive contract and the celebration of the positive outcome of a vow makes a person’s favoured relation with the saints publicly apparent to a wider circle. The desire to surpass and dazzle others with conspicuous display is exemplified by the sofreh dedicated to Hazrat-e 'Abbas. through which they can define and redefine themselves within their social group. generosity becomes “a sacrifice designed to win in return the blessing of prosperity” (Bourdieu 1992: 180). as in the realm of gift exchange. as well as prestige. an aspect of personhood. Through actions of this kind. Moreover. They thereby gain a competitive edge in their relationship to others. merely expected. In making their own value known. and where reward is assured. Some sofreh are competitive and vain. therefore. The large-scale public distribution of meals sponsored . piety and virtue within their social group.

Humphrey & Hugh-Jones (1992). whose sermons drew large crowds of both men and women. Studies that challenge such dichotomies include. The opposition of morality and market (ma'naviyat/madiyyat) corresponds to ‘gift’ and ‘commodity’ familiar from the anthropological literature on modes of exchange. Designated as ‘expenditure’ (kharji). the ideologies of ‘pure gift’ and the ‘market’ in Turkey deny women full participation in both domains. Strathern (1988: Chapter 6). women take part in both realms of ‘gift’ and ‘commodity’ in their exchanges with the supernatural and with other women. In playing with the boundaries between motivated gift and “free” commodity. This can be seen as a prime example of how women transform self-interest into morality. 36 . However. tea. but took the opportunity of using the mosque while her house was under repair. cheese. . thereby expressing their marginality as a self-fulfilling ideology (1990: 251–253). She had sponsored this event in her home for many years. women find a social space they can control. thus bolstering her prestige and reputation within her social group. As Deborah Kapchan says. one woman in Mrs Omid’s neighbourhood sponsored breakfast (bread. these distributed meals promote a form of moral patronage. cf.the morality of self-interested exchange 137 by men’s powerful religious associations during Muharram is the main example (Chapter 5). Tapper & N. Parry & Bloch (1996). As Bourdieu argues. serving to distinguish between those who can afford to be magnanimous and those who are receivers and cannot reciprocate. masked and reshuffled by moving between the spheres of ‘gift’ and ‘commodity’. See also. (1992). “The talent for turning commodity into gift is the same talent that permits a woman to accommodate herself to the commodity realm. In terms of gender symbolism. . Tapper (1987). or following Kopytoff (1992). “practice never ceases to conform to economic calculation even when it gives every appearance of disinterestedness” (1992: 177). Gell (1996). She invited a male preacher of her choice. Many studies have challenged the dichotomy. a space where tradition is being redefined” (1996: 176–77). sugar) for ten consecutive days in commemoration of Fatemeh’s death (dahegi-ye Fatemiyeh) at her local mosque. so that women’s vows to saints combine muted aspects of both. Anne Betteridge’s (1985) on gift exchange in various contexts in Iran that blur the gift/commodity boundaries. R. Distributions of this magnitude are usually beyond the means of women. Parry (1986).36 Nancy Tapper argues that in the light of Parry’s (1986) discussion of theories of reciprocity. Appadurai. where rules are broken. .

fixed gender model. who says that women’s zar in the Sudan offers men “the privilege of vicarious participation in what they ostensibly condemn as superstition and heresy. and men seem both to dominate women and delude themselves. depending on the interests and voices of those concerned. It provides women space to express their agency and redefine the gendered values rooted in the opposition of nafs and 'aql. they are still different (Strathern 1988: 129–130). Identification is what one does and thus becomes rather than what one is and therefore does. where discourses of morality vie with those of politics and self interest. This implies that women are different to men because of their bodies. Boddy states that “It is important to realize that if women are constrained by their gender from full participation in Islam. Tapper & R.37 This means paradoxically that women acquire sacred authority because of their inferior status. 39 Strathern makes this comment about prevalent assumptions about gender relations in Melanesia (1988: 98–99). 37 Cf I.38 In other words. Tapper argue that women’s religious practices in Turkey are paradoxically also vehicles for religious sentiments that men cannot express in the state-established religious orthodoxy. sofreh demonstrate that women’s particularity in relation to men is precisely because they ‘do’ things differently. are involved. so that women acquire sacred authority because of their inferior status (1987: 86). But. 38 N. women appear both weak and powerful.). and where certain gender discourses become more appropriate or powerful than others. Specific definitions of intentions and persons.39 The paradox arises because its premise is gender antagonism.M. . Lewis.” (1986: 106. and that even if women do the same things as men. following Strathern (ibid. that the body genders the acts. including relations to the saints as extensions of self.138 chapter four This is a contest over religious meaning and control. A unitary gender only becomes so through specific acts in given contexts. which is based on a bi-polar. men are constrained by theirs from full participation in zar” (1989: 6). Conclusion Sofreh is an all-female activity. but men may ask women to act on their behalf in activities that they themselves ostensibly condemn as spurious. that nature or biology determines the difference. What is essential is to examine those contexts where gender difference is insisted upon. cited also in Boddy 1989: 144–45).

but more broadly as a metaphor for social reproduction or fecundity in the widest sense of origins and of who is attributed with the creativity and life forces. For a fuller discussion see. as well as with assumptions about the body and its substances. This chapter looks at how in various contexts of death and martyrdom. they use the trope of food to become recognized agents of renewal. Loizos & Heady (1999: 1–19). are similar to the idea derived from Claude Lévi-Strauss (1963) on structural parallels between different spheres of life as metaphoric transformations of each other. The aim 1 2 For a helpful overview see. death gives way to regeneration and notions of rebirth and fecundity play a prominent role. therefore.2 The sense in which gender is used here is. as a key marker of gender and power. Notions of gender are entwined with ideas about human fertility and procreation. men assert their maleness as procreators and regenerators of life through procreative metaphors. in particular the trope of blood. Bloch (1989 b) argues that this promise of rebirth is essentially political and has to do with a reassertion of society associated with the authority of men.1 Leach (1977 b) observes that religious ideology uses the promise of rebirth to negate the finality of death. As we have seen. which addresses gender inequalities in terms of power and control over social and material resources. Their implications go beyond the system of ancestry and are of ideological significance for the organization of society.CHAPTER FIVE RITES OF MASCULINITY TROPES OF REGENERATION IN CONTEXTS OF DEATH It is a common anthropological observation that in ritual contexts. . Bloch & Parry (1989). not in terms of male/female roles and relations. The linking of the two senses of reproduction in anthropology. the biological and the social. especially in funeral practices. These ideas are in turn linked to theories of descent. The trope of blood is an alternative to the conceptions of societal regeneration that women promote.

Alternative perspectives are presented. Thaiss 1973: 271–74). From the first day. women and children included. arrive on the plains of Karbala to fight the forces of the Sunni Caliph Yazid (ad 680–683). Rawdat-al-shuhada (‘Garden [Paradise] of Martyrs’) by Husseyn Wa'iz-al Kashifi (d. Asrar-o-shahadat (‘Mysteries of Martyrdom’). Chelkowski 1979. . Shi'a sources designate Husseyn as the ‘the king of martyrs’ (seyyed-e shohada) who sacrificed himself in the cause of his faith for justice and truth (haqq). 'ashura). 6 The Karbala stories are derived from books like. Imam Husseyn died on the desert plains of Karbala in present day Iraq. whom the Shi'a sources present as the embodiment of tyranny. relating to another archetypal martyr and legendary figure called Siyavosh ('Anassori 1987: 9–19. Shi'a Narratives of Imam Husseyn’s Martyrdom On the tenth of Muharram in ad 680. when Husseyn and his ‘seventy-two’ followers. 5 An analogy may be made with performances of the ‘Stations of the Cross’ in Christianity. each day holds another tragic event. AD 1588).6 The Karbala stories reflect the political conflict between the Sunni and Shi'i over the legitimate leadership of the Muslim community 3 See Ezzati (1984) for the concept of martyrdom (shahadat.5 Set against the heroic and virtuous deeds of Husseyn and his male followers are the inhumane cruelties of the forces of Yazid. 16 for the different types of hey"at. AD 1504). to bear witness) and related concepts like jihad (holy struggle).. leading up to the ninth and tenth day (tasu'a. Arabic root ‘s h d’. revealing that ritual is a highly contested field and not simply a means for inculcating social and moral values or political ideology. when Husseyn is martyred. such as Tufanal-Buka (‘Deluge of Weeping’). Chapter 1 Fn. The origins of the narratives may be pre-Islamic. Massoudieh 1988: 125 ff. Haft-band (‘Seven Volumes’) by Muhtashim-e Kashani (d. injustice and oppression.140 chapter five of this chapter is to identify the specific mechanisms that renew the power and legitimacy of masculinity through ritual performance. when so much of daily life experience fails to confirm it.4 The stories begin on the first day of Muharram.3 Stories of his death are recounted throughout the year in dirge rituals (rowzeh) chanted by professional cantors (rowzeh-khan) and are re-enacted yearly on the first ten days of Muharram in a series of spectacular street processions (dasteh) and passion plays (ta'ziyeh) organized by men’s religious associations (hey"at). and other books. 4 See. Meskoub 1971: 68.

9 In effect. underlining the Persian Shi'i sense of community versus its Sunni Arab neighbours. for instance. with Old Testament figures receiving similar treatment (1998: 265. which means ‘party’ or ‘sect’ (Eickelman 1998: 265). So.8 There is no doubt that the Karbala tragedies are central to Shi'a Islam and have shaped its theology. with all the male bias that it implies. The Sunni advocate that the successor should be an elected Caliph. Hegland (1983) and Fischer (1980). Fischer & Abedi (1990: xxvi) and for Haidari and Ni'mati factionalism in the 16–17th centuries see. Over the years. 9 For instance. Calmard (1996: 144–47). For reviews of the early accounts of the Muharram rituals see. They claim that succession should go to the Imams who are the Prophet’s male descendants by way of Fatemeh and her husband 'Ali. when Iran became officially Shi'a under Safavid rule. European Christian ambassadors rather than Sunni Muslims have been made to betray Husseyn. himself a patrilineal cousin of the Prophet. Calmard (1996) and Momen (1985: 114–119). The understanding that Husseyn sacrificed himself for the Prophet’s patriline is an assertion of the patrilineal ideology. the first Shi'a Imam. spectacular nature of these rituals has contributed to the attention they have received ever since the visits to Iran by early travellers. Arabic umma) after the Prophet’s death. Shi'ism began as a political movement. the Shi'i doctrine of Imamate is not simply about political leadership. The Shi'i are advocates of the doctrine of Imamate. On the political use of the rituals in modern history see. the stories of his martyrdom have also always provided a rationale for political action. However. By far the majority of the studies of Shi'a Islam focus on men’s ritual commemorations of Husseyn’s martyrdom during the month of Muharram. lamentation for Husseyn took on a nationalistic flavour. 8 7 . Shi'a texts present Husseyn’s martyrdom as the central orienting Shi'a myth. Eickelman notes that in some narratives. For expressions of class-based interests in the Muharram rituals see. see Introduction. numerous versions of the stories have been adapted for political ends. Gilsenan (1990). Husseyn’s death is intended to spiritually motivate and enrich people’s daily lives and to provide them with a sense of renewal and victory over death. Nonetheless. but essentially about patrilineal descent on which the doctrine is founded. as reflected in the word Shi'a. in the early 16th century. 268). ideal models of behaviour For references and discussion on this literature.rites of masculinity 141 (ommat. the Muharram rituals present two opposed.7 The very public. Scholars studying Shi'ism have similarly seen the story as foundational.

but also to the emotions. and the other passive or quietist. which were crucial in instigating the revolution. However. See. Kazemi (1980: 63. 1981). preachers promoted the notion that martyrs do not die but live on through the cause for which they died. the rituals are sociologically divisive rather than unifying. Upholding an image of a present life of suffering and a life of redemption and salvation in the next world. they have 10 The term ‘multi-vocal symbol’ was coined by Victor Turner (1961. Husseyn emerges as a ‘multi-vocal symbol’ with two poles of meaning. motivating people to action through affect. 1967) to indicate that ritual symbols have a ‘fan of meanings’. The clergymen who opposed the Shah instigated rebellion and martyrdom in the just cause of Husseyn against oppression and to preserve faith. preachers drew parallels between the Shah and the tyranny of Yazid. Allah is the greatest. “Everywhere is Karbala. Demonstrators killed by the Shah’s forces were designated as ‘martyrs’ parallel to the Karbala martyrs. . Thaiss (1973: 192 ff. and everyday is 'ashura”. Fischer & Abedi (1990: 167–68). “The martyrs are alive. and the other is a sensory or affective pole.10 One pole is ideological. appealing not only to the intellect. 44–45). 92–96). 11 There is by now much documented evidence as to the role of the clergy and the marked increase from the 1960’s in men’s religious associations (hey'at). it needs to be emphasized that in terms of gender imagery. standing for many things at once. The Muharram rituals leading up to the Iranian revolution of 1978–79 provide a particularly fine example. One is active. His example of the milk-tree sapling in the Ndembu ritual as a unifying symbol is frequently cited. They needed to uphold the image of Husseyn’s martyrdom. Arjomand (1988:91–3. who now also include the devout men who fought for their nation and fell on the battle front with Iraq (1980–88). As a symbol. and the first ten days of Muharram provided them with an emotive context to mobilize the masses. Braswell (1975). Borghei (1992). converting the ideological and obligatory into the desirable.11 In their sermons. Hegland 1983 a). that of political accommodation to existing relations of power or enduring suffering until the return of the Mahdi (Gilsenan 1990: 61. Husseyn thereby acts as a kind of transformer. exposing illegitimate power.). This idea was expressed in another popular revolutionary slogan. Chelkowski (1980: 30–37.142 chapter five for either upholding or subverting structures of power. Fischer (1980). interweaving their narrations with the popular revolutionary slogan.

the bodies of the martyrs of the Iran/Iraq war are buried in special cemeteries.rites of masculinity 143 joined truth (Allah). This shift entailed also a shift in the gender constructs. the rituals deliberately cultivate an ideology of masculinity through the imagery of sacrificial blood as the prized source for the patrilineal order on which the Shi'a doctrine is founded. lit. corresponding to the re-domesticization of women as model nurturers and caregivers (Chapter 2). ‘provider’ and ‘procreator’) as “the three ‘P’s”. providers and procreators. in particular the streets in the poorer parts of south Tehran.12 Their presence is inscribed prominently on the urban space. The point here is that the significance of the Muharram rituals cannot be reduced purely to political side-shows for or against governments of the time. . the heroes on the battlefront were to be recast as heroic protectors. calling the three images (‘protector’. After the war with Iraq. The anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s return from Paris to Iran on 11 February 1979 is marked by large-scale. Allah-o-Akbar. called significantly the ‘dawning of a new age’ (dahe-ye fajr. public celebrations. More significantly. Rather. Moeller (1998) has analyzed. the hey"at sponsor performances of the Karbala stories in spectacular 12 The Persian text is: Shahidan zendeh-and. 13 Parallels may be drawn with the reconstruction of the gender constructs in post-war Germany which R. be haqq peyvasteh-and. significantly (at the time of my research) with monumental fountains of gushing red water representing their flowing blood. With the establishment of the Islamic Republic and following the war with Iraq. marking a symbolic shift from the ten days of mourning during Muharram. political conflict and war to celebrating the new order. During these days. These fountains evoke the living presence of the martyrs and link the blood spilled by them with that spilled by Husseyn in the cause of justice. there was an ideological shift from protest. These are held over ten days. ten days of dawn). Allah-o-Akbar. Allah is the greatest”.13 Men’s Muharram Rituals: Quintessential Rites of Masculine Glory The ritual activities of the men’s religious associations (hey"at) are concentrated on the first ten days of Muharram. from where by far the majority of combatants were recruited with promises of reward in the hereafter.

pumped rose-water onto the crowds from canisters strapped to their backs. lighting and amplifiers. Accompanying me on the tenth day was Roya. with black flags and neon signs indicating the name of their respective association. chairs. The hey"at members advertise their venues competitively with banners across the streets. Preparations get under way long before the beginning of the month. loudspeakers relay the dirges in progress and the streets bustle with families with their children moving from one venue to the next. The neighbourhoods in south Tehran are brightly lit with coloured neon lights. Tapper (1979) and see. . see Hegland (1983a). as votive pledges. The evenings of the first ten days have a festive quality. the street processions are the most spectacular. As Roya explained. Street Processions (dasteh-ye sineh-zani) Muharram 1414 AHQ/June & July 1993 Among the various Muharram rituals. who commented on the men’s performances as we watched. attracting large crowds of onlookers from all over the city. Aghai (2004). which re-enact the braveries and tragedies of the devout Karbala warriors and in the process inadvertently link their historic heroic deeds to the men that re-enact it. Among the onlookers were infant boys dressed up as water bearers (saqqa). vendors sell ice cream and refreshments. Momen (1985: 114–119) and Pinault (1999. men who offered free sherbet or water and others who. also going to women’s jalaseh during this time. passion plays (ta'ziyeh) and dirge gatherings (rowzeh). Courtyards.144 chapter five street processions (dasteh-ye sineh-zani ). the daughter of one of Mrs Omid’s circle. Each procession belongs to a separate religious association.14 The processions that I attended in the summer of 1993 became increasingly emotive as the days led up to the tenth day ('ashura) when Husseyn was martyred. 1992: 56–7) for other contexts. Open spaces are made into temporary venues (tekkiyeh) with large tents. these actions earned religious merit (savab) and were intended to recall the suffering of Husseyn’s infant boy left to thirst by Yezid’s 14 For other descriptions of the Muharram street processions. basements and garages are set up with carpets. I intermittently witnessed the processions throughout the ten days. It was an exceptionally hot day.

skilfully balanced by men demonstrating their muscular strength. evoking the latter’s inhuman cruelty. the processions themselves were calculated to be impressive. Roya explained that the processions were now much calmer than before the revolution. recalling Husseyn’s sacrificial blood. She added that despite people’s sincerity. as were many of the men in the processions. They pounded their chests with the palms of their hands (sineh zani ) or flagellated their shoulder blades with chain flails (zanjir zani) to the beat of drums. Alongside the men were rows of self-flagellating boys. The largest. The practice had been forbidden following the revolution to curb excess in the processions. braying of trumpets and elegies (nowheh) that were relayed over loudspeakers carried on cars. a heavy battle standard ('alam) about three meters in height and width. heaviest and more elaborate among these 15 One reason for forbidding self-mortification with blades may have been a concern with projecting images of ‘fanaticism’ abroad (Pinault 1999). when they had been particularly frenzied. Rows of unshaven black shirted men progressed slowly around the neighbourhood streets. Their sincerity and piety was quite apparent. Roya said that boys had recently formed their own religious associations independent from the men.15 The restraint coincided with the ideological shift of emphasis after the revolution from protest to affirmation of the new order. Ahead of each procession were men carrying a battle flag with Husseyn’s emblem. The participation of boys in the street processions was no doubt a rite of passage into masculine adulthood. with some men using blades to cut into their scalps (qameh zani). Each procession competed over the display of the best standard. including very young ones from the age of about six. Some men showed traces of blood on their backs from the chain lashes. This was indeed spectacular showmanship. . Each of the religious associations had their own procession marked by their distinct style of flagellation. using one or both hands with varying rhythm and pace to give more impressive performances.rites of masculinity 145 forces. Roya pointed out that lamentations for Husseyn are religiously meritorious and propitious for the granting of favours by Husseyn as an intercessor with God. and that they were highly competitive displays between the men’s religious associations. Many among the onlookers were deeply moved with tears.

who had asked Husseyn to come as their leader. as obvious symbols of fertility. Men revere these battle standards as sacred objects. 16 . but failed to help him in the ensuing battle when Husseyn was martyred. Characteristically. The atmosphere was that of heroism. who fought alongside Husseyn. One man sacrificed a lamb in front of one. suits of armour consisting of a mail vest. implying that the practice was more prevalent before being denounced by the Ayatollah. with women as an audience enabling men to show off their masculinity through competitive displays of the heavy battle standards. each procession stops briefly in front of the homes of the combatants who had fallen on the Iran/Iraq front on the ninth and tenth of Muharram. recalling military parades of devout fighters rather than abject acts of self-mortification or penitence for an event long past.16 The merging of this symbol of the Prophet’s line of descent through his daughter (as only child) with the animal statuettes in pairs. Roya remarked that Ayatollah Montazeri had condemned the sacrifice of sheep in front of the battle standards as idolatry. manliness and martial stoicism. makes striking reference to the fecundity and birth in the male line. designating them as ‘rites of penitence’ to make up for the failure of the Kufans. Projecting out from the top of these paired statuettes was the ‘Hand of Fatemeh’. recalling of the sacrifice of sheep during the Meccan hajj. The three dimensional images on the battle standards included large white plumes. 'ashura). doves. People say that the hand represents the five members of the Prophet’s immediate household ( panj tan) that founded the line of male descent by way of Fatemeh. 17 Pinault (1992: 56–57) regards the processions as merely a means to weep for a historical event. elephants. the processions become increasingly emotional.146 chapter five gained the most admiration from the spectators. stags and antelopes. The iconography can be read as a powerful assertion of the patrilineal order. Some of the men pressed forward to touch them. The suits of armours were flanked on either side with bronze statuettes of paired animals like peacocks. the shedding of blood through flagellations and the slaughter of sheep in semblance of sacrifice. the crucial Some say that the hand represents the severed arm of Husseyn’s half-brother. These performances were no doubt intended to be impressive. a plumed metal cap and a round shield.17 On the ninth and tenth days (tasu'a. flanked by suits of armour on top of battle standards carried by muscular men. Hazrat-e 'Abbas.

we saw long queues of men. but also promotes their image as ‘providers’. women and children waiting to be served the remaining portions of the sacrificial meal after the men taking part in the processions had eaten. I was attending an annual commemoration (sal ) of the death of one such war martyr. On the tenth day. the marchers beat their chests fervently. Funerals held for the war martyrs sometimes included accounts of their willingness to be martyred (see below). by contrast during this ceremony. It consisted mainly of Qur"an recitations. representing the events that immediately followed Husseyn’s death. there was no mention of the deceased or of his intentions before going to the front. the distribution of these meals is reckoned highly meritorious. evoking the circumambulation of the Ka'ba in Mecca during hajj. the processions stopped in front of the house beating their chests passionately before moving on. venturing out later that afternoon. This gracious dispensation of open-handed ‘expenditure’ is crucial to the maintenance of social credit and political influence of men’s religious associations. when Husseyn was slain.rites of masculinity 147 dates of the Karbala story. The performances came to an abrupt halt at midday. the first on my way to a late night rowzeh . But. each procession carried the battle flag in a circle (tavvaf ) around the courtyard of a local mosque. Roya told me that the public had been queuing in the heat for a long time for a share of Imam Husseyn’s meal as it is considered ‘full of blessing’ ( por barakat). At each house. presided over by Mrs Omid. although martyrs are said to be already in Paradise. The men retired to their respective venues to consume Imam Husseyn’s sacrificial meal sponsored by their respective religious associations. which are meant to generate merit for the spirit of the deceased. unambiguously linking the recent war martyrs with those of battle at Karbala. none of the women commented or paid attention to the men and continued with their Qur"an recitations. This ceremony was like any other death observance. At midday. I witnessed all three. Three further processions follow on from after midday on the tenth day. On the morning of the ninth day. Strikingly unimpressed with the men’s performances. On the way. I retired to Roya’s house. Moreover. He was the son of one of Mrs Omid’s circle and among the first in the neighbourhood to fall in the war. as midday approached. These meals are called ‘expenditure’ (kharji). with the associated prestige reflecting back on their donor. an economic term that not only reflects the men’s trading background.

performed interestingly by middle class boys and girls in a neighbourhood in north Tehran. The onlookers appeared particularly moved by a large bier representing the mythical bier that held the remains of the Karbala martyrs.148 chapter five (see below) on the same tenth day of Muharram. held on the thirteenth (the third day after Husseyn’s death) represented the captives (dasteh-ye 'osara) being taken away by Yazid’s forces with men in full armour mounted on camels and horses. She was openly scornful of the men’s efforts. she said that flagellation with chains was a form of self-mutilation and as such. above all Mrs Omid. the third processions represented a passing tribe (dasteh-ye Bani Asad) who helped collect for burial the corpses left in the desert by Yazid’s forces. While agreeing that people needed to be reminded of the tragedies. on the seventeenth day (the seventh day after Husseyn’s death). Apparently. This procession consisted of small groups of men. The bier was borne by women following behind male pall-bearers. She describes how the teenagers appropriated this ceremony by holding their own candle light vigil calling it variously “Hossein Party” and “Techno-'ashura”. provoking thereby the morality police (basiji). not simply as onlookers. discouraging her own followers from attending what she described as a self-important and over-inflated masculine display. religiously forbidden (haram). this was the first time that women participated alongside the men in such a ceremony. Finally. she criticized the recent participation of women as carriers of the bier along with the men. saying that Fatemeh would certainly 18 For a vivid description of this ceremony in more recent years. but as bearers of the bier—a fact that Mrs Omid relayed to me disapprovingly. She advocated that the large sums of money spent on the processions should be used for purposes that were more worthwhile. women and children holding candles. her view was that religion should not be reduced to political showmanship. Above all. see Moaveni (2005: 57–59). She denounced the processions and the passion plays as bed'at practices introduced during the sixteenth century in the Safavid era for political ends. . during which they flirtatiously passed phone numbers to each other. Many of the women with whom I did my fieldwork criticized the men’s processions. representing the event when Husseyn’s sister Zeynab searched for lost children and the wounded (dasteh-ye sham-e ghariban).18 The second procession. who dispersed them by wielding batons. She found fault with many aspects of the processions. For example.

like the street processions. 'Anassori (1987). the daughter of Yazdegerd.rites of masculinity 149 have condemned it. Chapter 7). Beyza"i (1966). consistent with her views on maintaining rigid boundaries between the sexes as a source of political agency. acting the story of Zeynab taking care of the women and children in a ruin outside the city gates after the Karbala tragedies (see. These. she boycotts them. In marked contrast to the heroic scripts written for men. Massoudieh (1988). thus presenting women as suffering and weeping rather than militant and political. Aghai (2005 ed. along with the street processions. except as an audience to men acting out their heroic deeds on the battlefields on centre stage. apparently for an all-female audience. the last Sassanid emperor (1988: 19).20 Female roles have traditionally been performed in public by men with veils covering their faces.21 19 There are a number of studies of ta'ziyeh. . but she resisted the mixing of genders. Far from wanting to take part in men’s performances. passion plays were held in the afternoons in the courtyards of houses and in tents or temporary venues (tekkiyeh) set up for the occasion. Passion Plays (ta'ziyeh)19 Over the same ten days.). 20 Massoudieh refers to some performances by women at Fath 'Ali Shah’s court (1797–1834). She was unambiguously questioning celebrations of communal unity where such a unity was non-existent within a community divided by discriminations of gender and class. 21 Cf. Chapter 2). But a newly scripted play called “ta'zieyeh-ye kharabi-ye sham” (‘The Ruins of Damascus’. The heroines of these passion plays are Husseyn’s daughter Fatemeh and his wife Shahrbanu. sponsored by his daughter. were marked by the absence of women. Passion plays with women acting the central roles seem to be rare. Flaskerud for an elegy (nowheh) focusing on Zeynab as sufferer and mourner performed by women in a Muharram ceremony held in a private home in Shiraz (2005: 85–86). Chelkowski (1979). This play was first put on in 1992 for ten days after the tenth of Muharram on a curtained stage at a state-funded women’s cultural centre in south Tehran. See. ‘Sham’ in Persian) was performed for a female audience by women. it focuses on Zeynab as mourner. I did not hear of any apart from joyful plays such as the popular ‘Bride of Qureysh’ (see. She did not explain all her reasoning.

if not the most spectacular of all the Muharram rituals. accompanied by chest beatings and refrains by the men and once again concluding with Husseyn’s sacrificial meal. Motherhood was advocated as the most profound responsibility of women and enshrined for the first time in the Constitution. Najmabadi (1991) and other contributions in Kandiyoti ed.150 chapter five As in the Anglo-Boer war analysed by Anne McClintock (1995: 378–79). articulate and highly politicized. during which the skilled cantors chant the Karbala stories to a large audience. The follow- 22 An active gender politics around nationalism is not new. thus preventing the disempowerment and demasculinization of the men who have failed to protect women or their ‘honour’. See. cit. . are men’s dirge gatherings. Stalin and Mao. provider and procreators. rebellious. Mies (1986) pointed to a shift in nationalist imagery in post-revolutionary. feminized images of maternal loss and tears shed for injustice and victimization are employed so that the embarrassment of military defeat is overlooked. 10th Muharram 1414 AHQ/1st July 1993 Among the most emotive. as men who assume their role as protectors. there was no space for feminine courage and defiance and Zeynab’s assertive image had to be recast. where the female image of the nation is replaced by the images of the founding fathers and socialist patriarchs like Marx. Kandiyoti (1991). The devout fighters and heroes on the battlefront were recast as heroes in the domestic realm..22 A Dirge Ritual (rowzeh). After the war. Significantly. The clergymen leaders used this assertive image of Zeynab during the war with Iraq (1980–88) to encourage women to even participate in armed defence because of extreme need (Paidar 1995: 307). socialist states. assertive. this refashioning of women as model nurturers and care givers necessitated a re-presentation of men. The ones I attended consisted entirely of rowzeh and elegies chanted by a lead cantor. Moeller (1998) op. Contrasting with this public portrayal of women as mourners are the highly popular joyful mowludi and other celebratory rituals and satirical plays that women perform in their homes (see Chapter 7). (1991). I heard women tell alternative stories of Zeynab as militant. The abject portrait of Zeynab is subject to competing interpretations.

In the beginning. They recounted the tragedies.rites of masculinity 151 ing is an account of a rowzeh I attended on the night of the tenth day. The entrance to the house where the rowzeh was held was curtained separately for women and men. “We have allowed women to join us so that they do not go out on the streets tonight to watch the late night street processions. I went with Shamsi. while the women and children were confined to a small courtyard and the rooftop.” The women were busily trying to quieten their crying children and continued to converse among themselves. the exclusion of menstruating women. A large banner on the wall stated. a very pious woman I had met in one of the jalaseh of Mrs Omid’s circle. stop gossiping (gheybat) and listen. a male voice boomed from the loudspeaker harshly announcing. Loud refrains by all the men accompanied the lead. Her husband and son were both members. The dirges were poetic testimonies of love for Husseyn. the day after the Karbala event. “Only sisters with ritual ablution (vozu) are permitted to join the assembly”. according to which. At various stages throughout the night. We request that they remain quiet. The men sat indoors cooled by electric fans. the men knocked on the window of the courtyard reminding the women to keep quiet and to attend to their dirges. Husseyn’s fertile blood converted the barren plains of the Karbala desert to 23 ruh-e haqq ra zendeh negah darim dar khun-e Husseyn khodeman ra zendeh negah darim emshab shahadat nameh-ye 'asheqan emza’ mishavad farda ze-khun-e 'asheqan in dasht dariya mishavad . sponsored by one of the men’s local neighbourhood religious associations with predominantly young men as members. braveries and heroic deeds of the Karbala martyrs in rhymed couplets. unimpressed by the men’s derisive announcement. in theory. as in mosques. as in the following recurring example from my tape recording: Keep the spirit of justice/truth alive And keep ourselves alive in Husseyn’s blood Tonight the fate of lovers [martyrs who love Husseyn] will be signed Tomorrow this plain will be an ocean from the blood of lovers23 The couplet evokes the immortality of Husseyn’s blood based on a Hadith. This meant. The heat was overwhelming and we were grateful for the volunteers that served ‘Imam Husseyn’s sherbet’.

the discipline of their performance testified to months of rehearsal. or weep. interweaving his story with a sermon concerning men’s duty to guard ‘male honour’ (namus) by acting as guardians of female chastity. We have here men weeping for their lost ‘honour’ in failing to protect the women in order to justify men’s control over women’s sexuality which is tied to their masculine status. and those sitting near me did not comment on the men’s narratives. The men could easily relate to this story. roses. with only the dull thud of chest beating. geared towards impressing an audience. but that in spite of the exceptional heat. Rubbing the tears on her aching leg. the men mocked the women contemptuously.152 chapter five fertile fields of red tulips. which was echoed by all the men in unison. continuing to converse among themselves. she said. But she already . They showed little of the commitment they displayed during their own rituals. Shamsi was the only one who wept. The chest beating changed tempo and became frenzied each time the lead cantor sobbed loudly ‘Husseyn dear’. The cantor continued to narrate dramatically how Husseyn’s enemies had pulled off the hejab of his female followers. A gulf opened up between the cantor’s tales of male chivalry and everyday reality. giving rise to the desired ritual effect. Her way of expressing devotion to Husseyn was to identify with his thirst. hyacinth and poppies. The cantor interspersed the poetic chants with narratives. with sobbing and loud weeping by the men. she explained that tears shed for Husseyn are healing and redemptive. I recalled Mrs Omid’s scorn of cantors who. as they often did in mosques when male preachers conducted sermons. Moments of silence followed. She said that she had no doubt that Husseyn would take care of her health and reward her by responding to her request to help find a pious girl as a suitable bride for her son. But these would-be lovers of Husseyn failed to live up to Husseyn’s ideals. resorted to this technique to stimulate weeping rather than giving worthwhile sermons to benefit the listeners. Like the processions in the streets. vividly describing the brutal bloodshed and dismembered body parts on the battlefield. The removal of women’s hejab is widely advertised and perceived by men as rape and an attack on male ‘honour’. She told me she was suffering from a severe heart ailment. Nor did they join the men’s refrains. The women did not appear to pay any attention to the men’s dirges. When the women continued to converse among themselves rather than attend to the men’s performances. she had vowed not to drink any water that day.

or “May God increase your barakat”. determined to give meaning to her daily life. It is generally expected that the level of generosity or hospitality should be commensurate with a sponsor’s wealth and position. maintaining a careful balance between ostentation and stinginess. once more serving the women and children only after the men. Although the sacrificial meals are meant to be disinterested acts of piety. She relates to Husseyn as a pious intercessor with God. khoda bedeh barakat . In particular. “May Imam Husseyn reward you”. Shamsi’s behaviour demonstrates that religious practice takes on a different sense when lived experience is in tension with powerful narratives. unifying symbol of societal regeneration can be set against the way Shamsi relates to Husseyn’s humanity as a pious intercessor with God. This is not to suggest a binary division between male and female spirituality. Shamsi was no passive listener to the men’s narratives of death and bloodshed. wealthy religious associations to undertake lavish distributions of Imam Husseyn’s ‘expenditure’.24 To follow Mauss (1954). She added that there were many other eligible teenage girls present and that the other women were also on the look out for likely brides for their sons. legitimising 24 The standard Persian phrases are: ajr-e shoma ba Imam Husseyn.rites of masculinity 153 had one in mind and discreetly pointed to the one she meant. The contrast between an individual’s attribution of meaning to Husseyn and that promoted by the men’s performances is significant. the model of sacrifice as a general. reproducing thereby the image of the male provider. But economic circumstances current at the time only allowed the men’s powerful. excessive generosity only served to distinguish between those who are able to be magnanimous and those who are receivers and cannot reciprocate. Seeking out Husseyn as helper to find a suitable bride marks her as an agent of her own requirements. consisting of a lavish dish of rice and grilled meat. Instead. other than with deferential expressions of gratitude like. It was not until after midnight that the men distributed Imam Husseyn’s sacrificial meal. Each individual appropriates and imbues religious icons with his or her own meanings. hoping for his help with her personal concerns. unreciprocated gifts while bringing credit to the donor actually keep the recipient who cannot reciprocate in perpetual debt.

25 Abraham’s story is generally understood to be the founding myth of the three monotheisms. at times by being suggestive if not explicit. The theme of sacrifice is further strengthened by the slaughter of a lamb in front of Husseyn’s battle standard. Fischer & Abedi (1990: 166–168). First. The symbolism of sacrifice was central to the men’s Muharram ritual performances. Husseyn’s battle standard is carried in a circle round the mosque. Husseyn’s act of sacrifice and the mass sacrifice of sheep with which the Meccan hajj culminates both occur on the tenth of their respective month. Husseyn’s flag and heavy battle standard and men shedding blood from self inflicted chain lashes suggest the willingness for self-sacrifice of an army of devotees on a battle field. evoking the life-giving blood spilled by Husseyn and his followers on the battle scene. There are striking parallels between the theme of sacrifice in the Muharram rituals and the rituals of the Meccan hajj in the month of Dhu al-Hijja immediately preceding Muharram. The suits of armour. Generosity and merit do not temper privilege. It transforms an act of violence into an act of sacrifice that is in turn imagined as life giving. It is evident that metaphors structure knowledge and shape experience. these lovers of Husseyn wish to identify with Husseyn’s act of sacrifice. indeed the process of charitable activity serves to endorse and reproduce it (Bourdieu 1992: 180). Clearly. Its moral and political messages have engaged the attention 25 See. This in turn relates to the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. But metaphors can acquire performative force (Fernandez 1986). as well as by the rich imagery of the poetic dirges. in the Muharram processions. Eickelman (1998: 260–264) and Antoun (1989: 171–82). Various scholars note the relationship between the Meccan hajj and the classic story of Abraham and Isaac. recalling the circumambulation of the Ka'ba (tavvaf ) in the Meccan hajj. Secondly. apparently motivated only by ideals of religious merit. . Sacrifice and the Trope of Blood Martyrdom is a powerful construct.154 chapter five a system of moral patronage that is represented as honourable and disinterested.

Antoun (1989: 178–80) refers to an interesting female-centred interpretation of the hajj by 'Ali Shari'ati. “the line of Imams would spring from his descendants. Valeri (1985). Indeed. (1999) who present a wide range of sacrificial practices in various Muslim contexts. prepared to sacrifice themselves for their faith. acting responsibly) can be set against Abraham’s fatalism and submission to God. 26 . This patriarchal view was expressed by the seventeenth century religious scholar Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi. Whoever follows Husseyn’s path and becomes a martyr in the cause of the faith is by implication representing Husseyn’s cause.26 This marks the Abrahamic sacrifice by a gender dichotomy and an outright exclusion of women from the story of salvation.” (quoted in Pinault 1999: 288). 1998). See Mir-Hosseini (1999: 213–214) for an assessment of the image of Fatima that he promoted just prior to the revolution of 1978–79. the father of Isma'il). Shari'ati considers the ritual of ‘running’ (sa'y) (associated with the struggle of Hajar in search of water to save her son Isma"il as important as the circumabulation (tavvaf ) of the Ka'ba (associated with Abraham. The ideal enduring aspect of the Shi'i community is thereby constructed by reference to the body and the blood See. morality. The other argues that if justice is to prevail—a justice grounded in the Shi'a doctrine of Imamate on which the Shi'a community depends—then one must be prepared to die in its cause. though with different interpretations. Arguably. One is the binary logic of this world and the next. thereby asserting the continuity of the patriline for which Husseyn gave his life. Delaney (1986. Cf. These ideas are enacted by devout fighting men with ideals of manliness. Bloch & Parry (1989). worship. The idea has been extended to the martyrs of contemporary wars and revolutions. spirit. Combs-Schilling (1989). of good conduct here and salvation in the hereafter. and Bonte et al. and sa'y with wisdom and logic or 'aql. Bowen (1992). Jay (1981). by sacrificing himself. Hajar’s activism (taking fate into her own hands. Bloch (1986). Husseyn ensured the continuity of the Prophet’s patriline. an influential religious thinker just prior to the revolution. Shari'ati’s views on women are however not straightforward.rites of masculinity 155 of various academic scholars. who said that God’s reward for Husseyn’s self-sacrifice was that. making it an authoritative discourse that legitimates a patriarchal order. Shari'ati associates tavvaf with spiritual elements like love. beauty. not least within Islamic textual traditions. The logic of martyrdom rests on two implicit related ideas. Many argue however that sacrifice is a powerful symbol of societal renewal linked with the idea of paternity and the political authority of men.

This image acquires performative force (Fernandez 1986) in the men’s rituals. which presents him as the sacrificial victim to preserve the faith. Apart from some very recent exceptions. Male blood is presented as the edifying essence of life. a conventional metaphor for Paradise. echoing the Christian notion of the ‘Virgin Birth’.156 chapter five of deceased males. Certainly.27 A martyr’s blood thus becomes a powerful metaphor and a key to the patrilineal order and the male-centred rule of law. In this sense. The symbolic exclusion of the female body from the story of creation makes martyrdom a colonising discourse of masculinity. The symbolic blood gushing from the fountains of red water in martyrs’ cemeteries from the 1978–79 revolution and the subsequent war with Iraq (1980–88) is a powerful iconic representation of male blood that lives on and endures beyond death. based on the trope of Husseyn’s fertile life-giving blood. she is always represented as the paragon of sexual purity. . representations of martyrdom are an exaltation of masculine gender centred on the blood of the patriline and cosmically enshrined as the only gender that brings eternal hope. Much like Mary. one that is so powerful that competing understandings are silenced. wife and daughter’ has become the master narrative that 27 See. they are celebrated as ‘mothers of martyrs’ for raising valiant sons prepared to die for their faith as the quintessential act of motherhood. If Fatemeh is presented as having died a martyr. This may explain why the notion of martyrdom in Shi'a Islam is rarely associated with women. but also in societal regeneration. Husseyn’s capacity to transcend the mundane in the greatest act of self-sacrifice. faith and submission to God centres on the redemptive power of glorious death and is intended to provide a sense of self-renewal and victory over death. The term rowzeh used for the dirges and Karbala narratives is derived from the Arabic word rawda (meaning garden). The legitimacy of Shi'i leadership is based on blood descendants of the Prophet. so that blood descent needs to be forcefully renewed. A martyr’s blood results not only in the recreation of the deceased. which promises an everlasting life for those who are worthy. Combs-Schilling (1989) who makes this point with regard to the Moroccan ritual of sacrifice. the female model of ‘mother. But the Karbala narratives celebrate the immortality of maleness only.

29 Henry Munson observes that Fatemeh’s significant but anomalous role is underlined by the fact that although her husband 'Ali had a brother Ja'far from the same father Abu-Talib. There is no doubt that Fatemeh’s role as the sole link between the Prophet and his male successors gives rise to a structural ambiguity and ambivalence in reckonings about descent. They said that the extended four-week commemorations were intended to cover all the known possibilities of the date of her death.30 These elegies are always chanted during the Muharram rituals. It is said that political exigencies required the clandestine burial of Fatemeh by her husband ‘Ali. they also chanted the 'ashura elegies. Significantly. replicating the first ten days of Muharram. Mrs Omid’s circle marked Fatemeh’s death over a four-week period in series of tenday rituals (dahegi) called Fatemiyeh. renders Fatemeh’s role as the only link between the Prophet and the Imams both significant and anomalous in reckoning descent from the Prophet in this otherwise strictly patrilineal system. her death is overshadowed by that of her son Husseyn. the primacy of paternity would lose its significance.29 Men’s religious associations do not emphasize Fatemeh’s death to the same extent as they do Husseyn’s. By contrast. 1999: 18). thereby linking Fatemeh’s death to the idea underlying Husseyn’s martyrdom. 30 The 'ashura elegy is called ziyarat-e 'ashura-ye gheyr-e ma"rufeh. “mother of all Imams” (umm-al 'a'emmeh). During the gatherings. only the patrilineal descendants of 'Ali and Fatemeh are reckoned as the Prophet’s legitimate successors (1993: 188). Indeed. Descent being imagined and legitimized in terms of male blood only.rites of masculinity 157 seeks to control Fatemeh’s significance as the sole link between the Prophet and his male successors. .28 If Fatemeh were accorded the same significance that Husseyn has as the source of life for the community of Shi'a. leaving the date of her death ambiguous. Wendy James remarked long ago that matrifocal ideas are present even in most notoriously patrilineal societies (1978. cited by Moore et al. represented symbolically by the prominent display of the “Hand of Fatemeh” (the ‘Five 28 I was told that the sources differ as to whether Fatemeh was buried 75 or 95 days after that of the Prophet’s. This ambivalence is reflected in the common designations of “Fatemeh between Prophethood and Imamate” (Fatemeh beyn-e nobbovat va emamat). they emphasized Fatemeh’s importance to the survival of the Shi'i faith with emotive lamentation poems that focused on her suffering and endurance in the cause of the faith.

Women may disregard the rules. In other words. surrounded by extensive taboos.158 chapter five Bodies’) on the battle standards. and its role in creating life. but must be approached as a symbolic construct linked to conceptions of human fertility and reproduction. which are based on the differential ideas about male/female bodies (Buckley & Gottlieb 1988: 37. the men celebrate the purity and fecundity of male sacrificial blood. but male and female bodies mean different things and are differently associated with notions of corporeality (Delaney 1988: 77). 1967) argues similarly that. it is not only by reference to the body or its physiological processes that symbols acquire emotional force. but the notice on the wall denies entry to menstruating women. Victor Turner (1961. the construction of male blood as regenerative and as the source of life is opposed to a construction of female. menstrual womb-blood as dead and polluting. Blood as a Relationship: Virginity and Paternity The body is a rich source of ‘natural symbols’ (Douglas 1996). as is the case in mosques. structural ambiguity over the issue of descent. but it 31 As Mary Douglas (1966) observes. It would seem reasonable to suggest that the male-centeredness of the Muharram rituals arises from the central. in the men’s dirge ritual gathering. In other words. so that patrilineal blood descent needs to be constantly reaffirmed. but points toward “a more complex a far-reaching conceptual system that includes elements of folk-biology to constitute the basis for the meaning of the taboos themselves” (Buckley & Gottlieb 1988: 39). Delaney 1988). . Moreover. there is still a latent tension over whether the Prophet’s descendants (seyyed ) may also be reckoned matrilineally and there is no general consensus about it among the leading Ayatollahs. Menstrual taboos are widespread. the body imagery is a key symbol for concepts of the world about us. the ideology of menstrual taboo does not signal any inherent pollution of the female principle. but it is also from the body that key symbols by which we order our world are derived.31 The idea that a martyr’s blood is the prime symbol of a community’s enduring life means that male blood is constructed around the denial of the significance of the female womb-blood. Indeed.

Strathern (1988) and Carsten (1995. Elaine Combs-Schilling (1989) links blood as a key trope to ideas about creation. The blood metaphor is not an isolated trope. the medieval Muslim natural philosophers and physicians considered that both male and female shared equally the power of generation. violence and political authority which are in turn linked to other practices involving violence and blood. who cites several Arabic sources. people do not themselves make these structural links in practice (1993: 121). As Munson rightly notes. 3. This is based on the implicit idea that the transfer of substance necessarily creates social connections and is bolstered by the still entrenched. It not only divides and separates male and female bodies.34 Ties of 32 The idea about structural parallels between different spheres of life as metaphoric transformations of each other stems from Lévi-Strauss (1963). Carol Delaney (1991).rites of masculinity 159 reveals that blood is a divisive rather than the unifying trope that religious ideology promotes. But milk-ties are based on nurture rather than the act of creation and have no major legal importance. which are themselves structural transformations of sacrificial rites. in perceptions of identity and relatedness. Milk-siblings cannot marry for instance. 33 See. . Breast milk can determine marriageability according to the religious rules. popular monogenetic theory of procreation. but also has wider implications for the organisation of society. In a stimulating study of the complex Moroccan animal sacrifice. whereby a child’s identity is imagined as almost wholly determined by the father’s blood. the theory of generation in the medieval medical texts corresponded to the classical Islamic understanding of Qur"anic doctrine of creation.33 Maternal transmission of substance is implicitly recognized through the practice of ‘milk mothering’. Interestingly. passed down and transmitted patrilineally. Both were believed to contribute semen to the reproduction of the child (Mussalam 1983: Ch. such as the blood of the virgin bride and childbirth. including food. 34 A major theme that has emerged from studies of personhood is the primacy of substance. Sanders 1991: 76).). patriarchy. Sacrifice has also been linked to the shedding of blood in male circumcision among Jews (Hoffman 1996) and the Merina of Madagascar (Bloch 1986). According to Sanders (ibid. See also. social and political order. Mono-genetic theories that lasted until mid 20th century did not account for female creative ovular contribution. they are implicit in their actions and expressions. in particular the institutions of virginity and paternity. It encompasses other dimensions of life that are conceived of as being central to the moral.32 Although people do not themselves make such links. 1997). The common expression ‘being of the same blood’ (ham khuni) metaphorically links agnatic ties through the notion of shared blood. Breast milk is also popularly thought to influence affect and the moral characteristics of a child.

It is in both men’s and women’s interests to uphold the ideology of a bride’s virginity. with the elites. for example through the apparently common practice of repaired hymen. The social and cultural notions around virginity and marriage confirm these views on paternity. Men fully become men once they marry and reproduce. The blood of a virgin not only ‘proves’ fatherhood. The Nuptial Memorial Object (hejleh) One of the popular Muharram passion plays is called ta'ziyeh-ye Qasem. It concerns the planned marriage between Imam Husseyn’s daughter Fatemeh to his nephew Qasem on the seventh of Muharram. The young groom-to-be was called to battle just before the wedding night and his corpse was returned and placed in the nuptial chamber (hejleh) that had been prepared for the wedding night.160 chapter five blood. when a male bachelor dies. 2004: 27–28). So important is the idea of men’s reproductive role that. honour is not invested in a girl’s virtue but assured by hard currency and social status (1996: 163). So important is the idea of blood spilling. Infertility affects women and men differently. But men’s infertility has implications for masculine identity linked to the ideas surrounding potency and paternity. . designating an unfulfilled desire for progeny. if not the state of virginity itself. are constructed as a key to the social order and extend beyond death. Men can take other wives to ensure childbirth.35 The term 35 Flaskerud describes a performance of the play by women in a ceremony in Shiraz (2005: 76. but also the potency of the groom in his procreative role. For women it often means the loss of marital security. a common practice is to reproduce it iconically with elaborate memorial stands designated as ‘nuptial chamber’ (hejleh). Men who die childless are pitied with the expression nakam. The institution of virginity assumes control over female sexuality and is ideologized as ensuring paternity (Lindisfarne 1994). or absence of virginity. that both men and women may fake it to ensure female respectability. by contrast. although as Deborah Kapchan argues. The passage into manhood through ‘defloration’ may demand the use of animal blood to conceal male impotency (Combs-Schilling 1989: 209).

a term used also for a candle-lit lantern with a tulip-shaped hub. to large. The tulip shape and its embellishments have multiple associations. The tulip (laleh). the nuptial memorial stand is a durable object and becomes a symbol of continuity. The nuptial memorial stand is not just a tribute to the virtues of the deceased. to improve them (2002: 66–67). usually up to seven days after his death. relatives or fellow workers rent one or more stands. has been a major icon of the Islamic Republic. It is not just a bestowal of respectability that is at stake. simple home-made wooden cabinets. it is not just that people change objects by the way they use them. 36 Referring to Alfred Gell’s “Extended Agency”. it works to celebrate male fertility in general and to bring to life the reproductive potential of a deceased male bachelor. green foliage. and covered with mirrors. These are a prominent feature on the streets during the first ten days of Muharram. attach an enlarged photograph of the deceased and display them on the pavements in front of his house or place of work.rites of masculinity 161 for nuptial chamber (hejleh) also refers to the memorial stands. thereby symbolically helping to complete his unfulfilled desire. the deceased relies on other men to pursue his intentions with an artefact. These nuptial memorial stands are connected with men only and in particular those who live a virtuous life. but also objects can be employed to change people. Like tombs. The nuptial stand bears a complex cultural symbolism. in which the details of the physical form are crucial to the meanings constructed. but one that here relates to men alone. It can vary from small. Rather. They authenticate his reproductive potential. on which male honour resides. flowers and coloured light bulbs. Simon Harrison (1998: 1) notes that things people create are parts of themselves and which may after their deaths pursue their intentions for them and that artworks are artefacts endowed. which reflect off the mirrors and thereby emit a blinding light. thus bestowing honour on the deceased and thereby also preserving their own. It is a powerful multifaceted iconic representation. with the status of honorary persons with the property of participating in social relations. . so to speak. covered in black cloth and light bulbs.36 Unable to be present in person. As a tribute to the deceased. elaborate and expensive stands over two meters high which are shaped like a tulip. for example. die young and are bachelors. As Caroline Humphrey suggests.

.37 Light bulbs. male associated spiritual fertility is set against female associated sexuality. To renew themselves. The latter. This spiritual male birth eclipses the earthly birth. The opposition of male associated spiritual or intellectual ‘pseudo-procreation’ with female associated physiological reproduction is manifest. this complex cultural symbolism can be read as a testimony of male birth. Light has multiple well-known links with spirituality. one that is spiritual and everlasting. To follow Bloch (1989b) and Bloch and Parry’s (1989) line of argument. The female seems to be absent. green foliage and flowers are used for weddings and are common signs of fertility. the disjunction is brought about by using gendered imagery to make the hierarchical contrast manifest. knowledge and reason or 'aql. “In most cases what would seem to be revitalized in funerary practices is that resource which is culturally conceived to be most essential to the reproduction 37 See. They carry a single message of maleness as the enduring hope. is constructed as polluting. which is associated with the reproductive act. men need to be independent of women. where a male God bypasses all physical contact with a female body and reproduces himself through a female virgin. powerfully represented with a profusion of mirrored lights and foliage. The merging of these associations with an enlarged portrait of the man attached to the ‘nuptial chamber’ makes manifest characteristics associated with maleness in the dominant religious ideology. the nuptial stand iconically represents the nuptial chamber. More significantly. resulting from male/female intercourse. More specifically. This recalls the classic male/female. the tulip commonly represents a lover’s bloodshed in his quest for love. This recalls accounts in the New Testament in Christianity. Fischer & Abedi (1990: 345). As Bloch and Parry (1989: 19) argue. untainted by their polluting effect. fertility is dissociated from sexuality and men from women. mind/body opposition. which is transformed into the blood of the martyrs on the battlefield at Karbala shed for the love of God.162 chapter five In Sufi inspired poetry. but is here attributed to the male alone. asserting the basic principle that men are the primary agents of creation. just as men are set against women. A preacher once explained that a martyr was like a candle that burnt itself out while radiating light to others.

Cultural symbols do not necessarily achieve the intended social cohesion and this elaborate object does not always generate the response intended. original emphasis). but also female ones. setting the masculine in relation to and dependent on the female. In other words. . knowledge and rationality. Many people criticize the stands as innovation. the female is present by her absence. Men “flaunt their maleness by revealing that they contain within themselves what is also female” (Strathern 1988: 122–23).38 This is an assertion of maleness as the source of fertility. permanence and continuity enshrined in a durable. Here we have hegemonic male immortality in the making. Here lies the paradox of the construction of masculinity. As Marilyn Strathern says. The self-reproducing male implicates female capacity to reproduce. “formulations of identity of a unitary kind would lead one to expect that men become more male by associating with things definable as exclusively male” (1988: 123). This also means that the basis for gender does not inhere in ‘men’ but in the relation between male and female in a specific context. But. such as light as an index for spiritual values. men in this instance do not only carry male identities. the nuptial stand is not entirely isolated from things female.rites of masculinity 163 of the social order” (Bloch and Parry 1989: 7. The authors are concerned with the symbols of sexuality and fertility in mortuary rituals and their social implications. not only as a cognitive device (that which is male is defined by what is female). one of the women accompanying me remarked that throughout the revolution and the Iran/Iraq war these streets were replete with elaborate 38 Bloch & Parry (1989: 18–19) argue that female sexuality is often associated with death and pollution. endorses the nuptial memorial stands. which Bloch (1989b) argues is essentially a political act legitimating traditional authority. men included. Passing by a row of nuptial stands on the way to a religious meeting ( jalaseh) in the neighbourhoods in south Tehran. but this does not preclude alternative evaluations in specific contexts. The point here is that gender imagery is used to assert maleness as the source of fertility. Although the female is absent. They may not dispute cultural symbols. The reality is that the presence of the other sex remains crucial. Indeed. another interpretation is possible. but in terms of efficacy of childbirth as proof of maleness (1988: 123). garish object. Not everyone. saying that the money should go to charity. male permanence and continuity.

seventh and fortieth days after Husseyn’s death (see above). eve of the seventh) and fortieth (chehelleh) days following burial (khak kardan). and thereafter as annual observances (sal. year). and their bright lights made it difficult to distinguish between night and day. Another paradox that her comment reveals is that the bodies of the men—those whom the revolution was to benefit most—have greater worth dead than alive. the Muharram ceremonies following Husseyn’s death also occur on the third. A Wedding for a Martyr: A Funeral Held by a Martyr’s Mother The reproductive symbolism of the nuptial memorial stand is carried over to funeral ceremonies held for martyrs. The one I attended was held for a young man who fell during the war with Iraq. “Men are elevated not only during their life. These funerary rituals relate to the religious ideas surrounding the fate of the spirit. The one that I attended was an annual remembrance for a young war martyr by his mother in their home in one of Tehran’s downtown quarters populated by migrant labourers and the poor. the next of kin hold a sequence of funerary rituals on the third (khatm. But the funerals held for men who died fighting during the revolution and the Iran/Iraq war presented a supreme opportunity for rekindling assertions of male permanence that underlies the established order. During the ceremony. when an individual dies. Martyrs are supposed to represent a higher order of values. the funeral turned out to be as a celebration of his wedding. seventh (shab-e haft. end). Why. were there none for women? She said derisively. the guests congratulated the bereaved mother for raising a son who had been prepared to die for his faith. To say that this is a typically masculine model would ignore the fact that most of the martyrs are from the poorer sections of society. I asked. The initial one on the third day is intended generally to propitiate the spirit and help it along to its ultimate destination by generating spiritual merit for the deceased through intensive Qur"an recitations. A young female preacher trained at the Faculty of Theology presided over the ceremony.164 chapter five hejleh. but even more so after they die”. As was the expected norm on arrival. Interestingly. Usually. To my surprise. The death of a martyr is imagined as the beginning of an infinitely better life. so that the same value separates men who are rich and poor. instead of recitations .

. Julie Peteet (1997) argues that the willingness displayed by mothers of martyrs to let their sons go provides a basis for claims to equal citizenship. she proceeded to recall aloud the last hours spent with her son before he went to the front. Similarly. a practice commonly associated with weddings. The word for wedding ('arusi) is derived from the Arabic root ('-r-s) meaning ‘to unite’.rites of masculinity 165 of the Qur"an that are standard in death observances. in which the corpse of the young groom-to-be Qasem was returned from the battlefield and placed in the nuptial chamber (hejleh) that had been prepared for his wedding night. The preacher concluded the gathering by chanting Muharram related dirges (ziyarat-e 'ashura). similar to mowludi rituals that celebrate the birth of saints. 40 On the language of motherhood and the politics of reproduction among Palestinians. Meanwhile. many joyful songs were sung by the lead singer. the preacher exclaimed joyfully: “This is a wedding of our martyr”. a martyr’s mother. through which she may lay claims to social reproduction and equal citizenship. she distributed leaflets with her son’s photograph bearing a testimony of his apparent willingness to be martyred. we were all invited to eat ‘Imam Husseyn’s meal’ consisting of rice mixed with lentils cooked by the mother. Half way through. The tension between her personal grief and her religious convictions was evident. embodies masculine attributes and becomes herself an icon of sacrifice. the place where martyrs are said to go directly. Sacrifice has a hollow ring in a social world divided 39 Iris Jean-Klein refers to how a Palestinian martyr’s funeral was proclaimed as a ‘nationalist wedding’ in which the martyr was equivalent to the bride and the land to the groom (1997: 89). having stoically relinquished what she herself produced. Iris Jean-Klein (1997) argues that in the case of the Palestinian struggle. see Iris Jean-Klein (1997). thereby linking the deceased with the Karbala martyrs. who describes how the mothers of martyrs complete and authenticate the act of sacrifice by their stoic accounts of their son’s desire for martyrdom.39 Her wedding model must have been the passion play (ta'ziyeh-ye Qasem) discussed in the previous section. Struggling to control her grief. Before leaving.40 But the guarantee of equal citizenship in the Iranian context seems remote. and scattered small sugar balls (noql ) over everyone’s head. Some of those present wept at this point. What the preacher may have had in mind was to celebrate the joining of the martyr’s spirit with God in Paradise. These were accompanied by general handclapping.

I’m afraid of being killed”. they told him. she chose to speak about the Qur"anic chapter (S:27 an-naml. strength and sacrifice now resided in working class men. The street names in downtown Tehran alone attest to the recruitment of war martyrs from among the poor.” Humour is difficult to translate because much of it relies on knowledge that is taken for granted. then you will go directly to Paradise and be given several black eyed houris (hur al"ayn). Those listening to the joke could easily relate to it. the number of houris a man can have in Paradise is popularly said to depend on how pious a man has been on earth. It is ironic that those whom the revolution was intended to help most swiftly became expendable with the mass recruitment of the poor into the military. It reveals the inequity between those calling for sacrifice and those who must bear the costs. making aspirations to equal citizenship for them least likely. For example. It reveals a gap between lived experience and an ideology that promises reward in another life. The young man replied. Mrs Omid’s joke is full of irony.166 chapter five into haves and have-nots. Houri is both a female name and refers to a nymph in Paradise. . 41 42 Bruce Lincoln (1991) makes this point with regard to sacrifice more generally. In one of the ten day jalaseh series (dahegi) she led during Muharram. Masculinised virtues of morality. the ant) on the theme of belief in the hereafter and concluded her exegesis with the following joke about martydom: A young man was encouraged to go to war: “Let’s go to jihad”. “No. similar to the gatherings she led throughout the year (see Chapter 1). These downtown quarters were the centres of rebellion and protest under the Shah. They replied. “But if you are martyred. “I’ve got mine at home and I’m not going to give up my life for ‘a black eye’ ('ayn).41 Mrs Omid found it abhorrent to associate martyrdom with warfare and male prowess and she disliked the process by which men constructed tests of masculinity.” 42 He replied. Among them were women who had lost sons in the war whose public expressions of grief had been cruelly limited by the discourse of martyrdom as a highly prized ideal. Women above all shoulder the consequences of such loss. Her commemorations of Husseyn’s death were not spectacular shows but relaxed and convivial.

This becoming is 43 Combs-Schilling (1989) makes this point regarding Moroccan sacrifice. Rituals are powerful media. The rituals demonstrate that far more is at stake than simply upholding or toppling an existing ruler. To remain persuasive. whether as metaphors for other things or as themes in their own right. Moore 1999a: 26 ff. but the legitimacy of a male-centred rule of law. 1999b: 152). These mechanisms renew the power and legitimacy of maleness. To interpret androcentric representations as the model for gender relations would be to ignore other understandings. Marilyn Strathern (1989: 169) makes this point regarding the often-discussed sexual antagonism in some New Guinea societies. the patrilineal rule of law remained intact.43 The extension of Husseyn’s martyrdom to the lived present and to all men who follow his path renders the male-centred rule of law sacred and cosmic. such as those described in the men’s rituals here.rites of masculinity Conclusion 167 The common view of the Muharram rituals as simply a powerful political tool for rebellion or support of political leaders will not do.. Gender relations are more complex in practice. This ‘sexual antagonism’ thesis unwittingly reinscribes gender opposition as a fixed structure. ideas must be constantly renewed. and their power to create reality rests partly on their ability to feed the imagination through metaphor. Patrilineality is not the same as patriarchy. male rites present partial views. The context of military recruitment reveals that the idiom of gender conceals differences of class within. A unitary gender only becomes so through actions of a specific kind. When the Shah was toppled. even when much of daily life experience fails to confirm it. What the Muharram rituals construct above all is not the legitimacy of a ruler. in which only some aspects of gender relations are given attention. The social and the symbolic do not necessarily reflect each other in any easy way (Harris 1995. She states that one should not assume that a cultural symbolism of antithesis between male and female literally divides men and women into social classes. As with any representation. . where the social world divided by rich and poor does not necessarily confirm the position a father may hold in his household. Nor is a theory of women’s subordination to be confused with subservience.

1993). Seen together. .168 chapter five never complete because unitary gender is constantly being performed (Butler 199 a. b. Constructions of self-reproducing males in the Muharram rituals can be set against women’s engagement in similar sort of activities in female centred rituals described in previous chapters. male and female rituals celebrate mutual dependencies for social regeneration.

No equivalent ritual for girls is reported or known to have existed prior to this. Central to the ceremony is the performance of the daily prayers. Religious duties in any case must commence at the age of nine irrespective of whether the first menses have begun. salat) by the novice. meaning duty. This ritual swiftly became a major public event. In Shi'a Islam. The occasion broadly resembles the Catholic First Holy Communion and the Jewish Bat Mitzvah. For girls. although people commonly also refer to it as “Celebration of Responsibility” ( jashn-e mas"uliyat) and “Celebration of Puberty” ( jashn-e taklif ). The threshold of reason is however differently assessed for each sex and corresponds to their physical maturity or onset of puberty. but at the latest by the age of fifteen. In the case of boys mental maturity and religious duties begin on his first seminal emission and if this goes unnoticed. The official designation of the ceremony is “Celebration of Worship” ( jashn-e 'ebadat). as with Catholics who call this moment the ‘age of reason’. corresponding to a time when the first menses are imminent. An article in an officially approved magazine “Woman of Today” (Zan-e Ruz) dated January 1991 reports that the ritual was launched at a particular girls’ school at the initiative of the school authorities . a new ritual emerged specifically to mark the coming of age of girls at the age of nine. mentally ‘ripe’). maturity is set at age nine (reckoned in ‘lunar’ years). namaz (Arabic. The term puberty (taklif ) has multiple referents. when his voice begins to break. the religious duties of girls and boys become incumbent on them when they are deemed mentally mature ('aql-res.CHAPTER SIX A GIRLS’ ‘INITIATION’ RITUAL BEING SOCIALIZED INTO PIETY OR GENDERING THE UNGENDERED CHILD? Two years following the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. who must also display competence in answering questions posed by adults on her religious duties. as well as the time when a boy’s voice begins to break and when a girl begins her menses. task and imposition.

the Ministry of Education designated a specific date as a nationwide school celebration day for the coming of age of both girls and boys. and hence an instrument for social control (Bloch 1986. as well as to individual households with religious leanings. 1301 & 1302). the school ceremony was soon televised. the parents.Peyvand.2 Despite being mandatory for schools. the report suggests more media involvement to propagate the values and purpose of the ritual while also applauding the idea put forward by some parents to hold a similar boys’ ritual for gender equity. In 2002. A number of intriguing questions arise. communicating established concepts and ideologies to the novice (Turner 1961). being the first of its kind with children taking centre stage. Hughes- 1 See.170 chapter six as a collective ceremony for the third grade. 2 The date is 13th Aban (4th November) as reported on the Iranian news websites www. is to propagate Islamic values of simplicity and spirituality. It regrets that middle class households wishing to display piety have appropriated the event. school authorities and the clerical establishment)? What is the relation of these ceremonies to the new religious order and the state? Is the ritual merely a means of socialization. Expressing concern that it may develop into a divisive issue. the report argues. thereby discouraging lower income households.1 Having found favour with the clerical establishment. two reports by Farzaneh Najarian in Zan-e Ruz dated 6th & 13th Bahman 1369 AHS (nos. 1989 a)? Performative theories suggest that ritual participants achieve things through doing (Bell 1992. such as military recruitment (chapter 5) and circumcision (see below)? What are the principal concerns of all the parties involved (the children. likening it to a ‘new birth’ that marks the girl’s awareness of her responsibilities. competing to give impressive performances. Gerholm 1988. with the idea subsequently spreading to other schools (where it has since become mandatory). the boys’ ceremony does not appear to have gained the attention and popularity intended. including the children’s participation in the planning and organization of the ritual. Why has the girls’ ceremony been more successful and popular than that of the boys’? Is it because other key life course rituals already exist for . considering its emergence a significant “religious and cultural movement” (harakat-e 'ebadi farhangi). The main purpose of the ritual. The report lauds the ritual.

Humphrey & Laidlaw 1994. Children outnumber the adults. They live in the basement of a modest house belonging to her parents in a lower middle class quarter of south Tehran. had to wait until the girl’s aunt (father’s sister). Schieffelin 1985). 3 The two descriptions follow closely my field notes written soon after I took part in the ceremonies. . We converse while Shokufeh serves tea. We sit on a carpeted floor leaning against the bare walls around a small room. one in south of the city and the other in the wealthier north. who lives in another town. She is a young mother of two. The children meanwhile play in the courtyard. He is among those reported missing and she receives his salary from the state. The father’s absence made it all the more important for the aunt to be present. A Ceremony Downtown3 16 Rabi-I 1414 AHQ/4 September 1993 Shokufeh is celebrating her daughter’s coming of age and I have been invited by an aunt of hers who I met at one of Mrs Omid’s jalalseh. apart from a small table pushed against the wall. on which are some wrapped presents. There are no chairs or other furniture. Apart from Shokufeh and a neighbour. There are six girls of about the same age as the novice. insisted the occasion coincide with the Prophet’s birthday. The ‘real’ celebration. as she puts it (meaning the coming of age ritual). five women relatives are present. as well as two boys (the brother and a friend). a bowl of fruit and some fresh flowers. What is achieved through this newly invented ritual? These are some of the questions that I pursue following a description of two ceremonies held for girls in homes. She. Although her parents and in-laws urge her to re-marry. with a boy of seven and a girl who is now nine. She was pregnant with her son when her clergyman husband went to the front in the war with Iraq. in turn. could come. They held a small birthday party ( jashn-e tavvalod ) for her daughter’s actual birthday a few weeks ago.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 171 Freeland 1998. but soon come in to sing. I arrive in the early afternoon. she says this is not possible for her as long as she is not sure if her husband is still alive. since which the girl has been carrying out her religious duties.

which is in question and answer format.172 chapter six Standing in the middle of the room. children. don’t wear your veil Father’s brother is behind the door Should I wear a veil? No. they sing us songs in rhymed verse which they have learned at school. listen well Mother’s-sister’s-son is knocking on the door I want to go and open the door Should I wear my veil or not? Yes put on your veil Mother’s brother has come to visit his sister I want to go and open the door Should I wear my veil? No. is called sorud-e mahramiyat and teaches rules of veiling. for which I obtained permission. Greetings. don’t wear your veil I want to go to the grocer Should I wear the veil? Yes wear the veil. loved by God May this celebration of worship be auspicious The doctrine of Islam be ever-lasting This song. but the girls pretend not to notice:4 Well done. wear the veil Do you know why? Because I’ve reached maturity 4 The translations are from my tape recordings of the songs. As they sing. my main aim is to convey the sense. Although my translations are close. I am a seyyed I am fortunate I celebrate this year my ritual of worship How pleasant is my worship The prayer of a pious person is the pillar of faith Worship of God shall be the way I am good. which are applicable in front of potential marriage partners. . the boys playfully mimic them giggling. May God preserve her Say to her a hundred times Whoever does not say well done Well they have no sense of fun The next one is called ‘The song of puberty’ (sorud-e jashn-e taklif ): I have come of age I am nine years old.

gets up. in the role of the devil. She goes through the two rak'at namaz (sections of the namaz) prescribed for the morning prayers at a fairly rapid pace.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 173 We all applaud and sing salavat bar Mohammad (praise to the Prophet) as we clap. telling her that it is highly propitious and meritorious but not obligatory. thank you Why did you put yourself in trouble? Why did you not bring more? Why did you not give me a villa? (The last two lines must be seen as a part-critical. keeping the beat by clapping rhythmically. we accompany them by singing salavat refrains. In fact. Following her lead. An angel. The girl looks shy and is quiet as one of the women tells her to answer “God willing”. bending and prostrating as required. the girls perform a play they have thoroughly rehearsed at school. a villa does make an appearance. reminds her that she must not rush the prayers and that in the standing position. Another girl. Then the girl opens her presents and as she does so. Finally. standing. One of the presents is a framed picture of a large house from . A younger girl repeats the namaz with her. while she recites the prayers loudly for us to hear. The girl’s paternal aunt now teaches her a simple prayer (zekr) called ‘Fatemeh’s rosary’ (tasbih-e Hazrat-e Zahra). The aunt makes a few critical comments. As the girls dance. as at mowludi celebrations. Some dancing follows. her mother announces who each present is from. Now the girl’s paternal aunt asks the novice a few questions on namaz. she should hold her arms still at her side without moving them. two girls in the guise of angels attach bows of coloured ribbons to the girl’s hair as a reward while we applaud the performance with clapping and rounds of salavat. we join in a resounding chorus of. The children pose so that I can take some photos. In the beginning the novice lies on the floor as if asleep while one of the girls explains that it is near sunrise. followed each time by the children singing a playful song: Thank you. to which she replies correctly. part joking reference to middle class wealth). The girl resists the temptation. goes through all the motions required for ritual ablution and then performs the morning namaz. reminding her that it is time for her to get up for namaz. tempts her to sleep on. played by one of the other girls. After a short while. She corrects the pronunciation of some Arabic words. wakes her up. “May your worship be accepted” with rounds of salavat.

one of the women says. Other gifts include a gold ring from her mother. but also ‘un-Islamic’. Heavy snowfall has disrupted transport facilities. The girls go to play and we converse as Shokufeh serves us another round of tea. I am the first one to arrive at the specified time of three in the afternoon. A Ceremony Uptown 14 Rajab 1413 AHQ/8 January 1993 The ceremony takes place in a newly built villa of a wealthy bazaar merchant who has recently moved up town. “Now her trousseau ( jahaz) is complete”. who tells her as she unwraps it that. Mrs Monir is a popular young preacher from downtown and a former student of Mrs Omid who introduced us. but had to cancel the event because the boy was embarrassed and refused to take part. She compares it to birthday parties. When this is unwrapped. Another woman considers this kind of celebration a good post-revolutionary development because the children learned about piety. Another says that she and her husband wanted to celebrate the coming of age of their son and had gone as far as inviting their male relatives. it will be her future house—clearly an idealized wish. this time with some fruit and biscuits. A large dining table pushed up against one of the walls is covered with trays piled high with fruit. One woman says that a suitable age for marriage is now seventeen or eighteen. an assortment of . I learn that most of the women present were married around the ages of twelve and thirteen and have several grandchildren. We sit in a large reception room with a lavish array of reproduction furniture. followed soon after by Mrs Monir. though appreciated by the girl did not fit in the ‘trousseau’ collection. who has been invited to preside over the ceremony and who has asked permission for me to attend. The conversation between the women revolves mainly on marriage and having children. As I live nearby. The conversations continue as I take my leave around six o’clock in the afternoon.174 chapter six the girl’s best friend. items of clothing. Sofas and armchairs line the walls. My gift of crayons and drawing paper. which she regards are not only expensive. One remarks on the joy her grandchildren bring her and her sister’s sadness for not having had any children. a veil and a toy sewing machine.

The choice of cocoa was significant: at that time. it was not until years later that the Qur"an was revealed to the Prophet. Mrs Monir says that she sees no contradiction in being pious and modern at the same time. salavat to Mohammad. salavat to Mohammad. who I am told. When Mrs Monir arrives. The guests complement her on her pretty looks and call her ‘bride’. the greatest eminence. eye make-up and lipstick. speculating on the whereabouts of her future groom and what he might be doing at this time. the first lines of which are: “The month of Rajab has come. The novice stands out in a long orange skirt. orange flower in hair. The mother joins us briefly. only twelve other women turn up. Describing the ceremony as a ‘birthday party’ with Islamic features. they all display well-coiffed hair and fashionable clothes. praise to Mohammad. Having removed their headscarves and overalls at the entrance. The girl . Meanwhile. A maidservant circles with trays of sweet pastries and cocoa instead of the more usual tea. claiming that she is fasting. the girl’s mother tells her that it was time for her to fetch her prayer outfit. gold necklace and earrings. She has the use of a microphone on a stand. I ask her about her views on boys’ ceremonies. She also tells me that her older son was martyred in the war. white top.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 175 cakes and sweet pastries and heaps of wrapped presents placed around an oversized doll wrapped in a white veil. white stockings and shoes. Mrs Monir begins to sing mowludi poems of praise in honour of Fatemeh and Imam 'Ali. but that she preferred to postpone the celebration until Imam 'Ali’s birthday (13th Rajab). the girls play among themselves. the Prophet held him in his arms and told him to recite the Torah. the Bible and one of the Qur"anic sureh. may the eyes of all be with light. she is offered a seat at the top end of the room.” She prompts us to clap and join in refrains of salavat: “Shi'a spread flowers at his feet. although. what a flower has emerged. throw lilies and hyacinth on his way. We then continue with more mowludi poems following her lead. fresh milk had acquired a special status. There is a long delay before any other guests arrive and because of the exceptional snowfall that day. After a while. she adds. Mrs Monir declines. fetching black market prices because of a shortage. the Shah of Arabs is born. are all relatives. telling us that her daughter’s birthday was a few days ago. the world is embellished. She replies that boys and girls should be treated in the same way and that she intends to hold a ceremony for her younger boy when he comes of age.” She pauses and tells us that when Imam 'Ali was a baby.

176 chapter six leaves her friends and returns wearing a veil. on which she has written. that is as the initiation of adolescents in preparation for their roles as adults. the terms used in the designations of the ritual. . singing rounds of salavat as we clap. Mrs Monir says her request will surely be granted. The mother allows me to photograph the girl with her veil having declined before without it. The girl cuts the cake and the maid serves it to the guests. The cake is in the form of an open book. The girl then gives each of us a small artificial carnation attached to a piece of paper cut in the shape of a heart. which also means ‘duty’. spreads out a prayerrug in middle of the room and loudly recites the first part of the two rak'at namaz as she goes through the required motions of bending. she tells her to ask the saints for a favour (hajat). including Mrs Monir make any comments or pose questions for the girl to answer on religious duties. Audrey Richard’s now classic study of a girl’s initiation ceremony in Northern Rhodesia (1952). prostrating and other gestures all in rapid pace. ‘Thank you for coming to my celebration of worship’ with her signature and date. suggesting the Qur"an and I am encouraged to take a photo of this. Instead. saying that she had reached puberty.5 The girls’ puberty ritual seems to fit into this framework. ‘worship’ ('ebadat). ‘responsibility’ (mas'uliyat) and ‘puberty’ (taklif ). More refreshments are served while a large chocolate cake is brought in on a trolley into the centre of the room. as she is still innocent and pure. ‘task’ and ‘imposition’. None of the women. indicate that the intention is to cultivate appropriate moral dispositions and norms 5 See. Soon after Mrs Monir and I take our leave. Before her daughter folds up her veil and prayer rug. The woman next to me says that another favourite model for cakes for this ceremony is ‘God’s house’ in Mecca (the Ka'beh). we applaud the girl. It is not just that there are questions concerning religious duties to which the novices must respond. Rather. Multiple Perspectives Social anthropologists have conventionally seen puberty rituals in terms of Van Gennep’s (1960) ‘rites of passage’ model.

laughing and other body functions. which is taught formally not by parent. but by priest. What matters within the ritual frame is neither the formal teaching of rules and regulations that the girl learns irrespective of the See Majlesi (1991). girls from religious families often learn from their mothers to adhere to rules of modesty and may accompany them to religious meetings. The inculcation of moral values and body discipline as a means of social control has a long precedence in Islamic teachings. Marilyn Strathern challenges the anthropological theory that underpins the idea of ‘role acquisition’ or ‘socialisation’ through such rituals. A child develops an ability to judge and evaluate the expectations of others. where they are praised or rewarded with sweets by other women for ‘acting like a lady’. girls already know what the adults expect of them. making the process a positive and attractive experience for the novice. The girls’ puberty ritual needs to be examined in the light of her criticism. because they are not reprimanded if they drink or take small snacks in between the fastbreaking meals. There is no need for the imposition of rules in a ceremony. irrespective of the new ceremony. 321–24. 1993). with minute details on eating.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 177 of conduct in line with Islamic values. Before they reach the age of nine. 6 . even if not in a rigid way. even spitting. sleeping.7 Her main criticism centres on the problematic concept of a shared understanding inherent in the notion of socialisation rooted in Euro-American metaphors of property and domination. This is different from the Catholic Confirmation. which is a popular book on prescribed manners. They are also encouraged to learn and observe religious duties before the age of nine.8 They thereby learn in a gradual process that compliance with the social values is rewarded as virtue. 7 See Strathern (1988: 11–15. This interpretation assumes that society has a unified set of values which it in turn imposes on a child. as the child already knows them. By the age of nine. The child is assumed to be unsocialised and Strathern argues that this assumption is incorrect. the disciplining is done in a celebratory way through the medium of songs. and thus for self-regulation (Strathern 1989). I will argue following Marilyn Strathern (1993) that the child is already a social being and need not be made into one through this ceremony. presents and by being filmed or televised. especially namaz and fasting.6 In the puberty ceremonies. praises. 1989. 8 Children’s fasting is popularly called ‘birdlike fasting’ (rouzeh-ye gonjishki). 315.

11 Expressions of conformity in the ritual context do not necessarily lead to submission or conformity in daily life. In other words. so that they too are party to the moral teachings through ‘doing’. An act is not simply a representation of prior concepts. creates physical objects (dresses. namaz is a highly formalized activity. 10 See Starrett’s (1995a) critique of Bourdieu’s concept of body hexis. 11 Cf. and Foucault (1977) on the body as a target of disciplinary practices. also Mahmood’s analysis of salat in Egypt (2001b. The ritual also does things. buying presents and so on. unlike the nuances of verbal communication (Rappoport 1979 cited in Bell 1992: 99–100).). Learning through doing does not mean that the actors cannot reflect on what they do. even if she flaunts those expectations. The parents. she would be breaking the pledges publicly made. sewing the dresses. despite being a highly formalized activity. For example. Thereafter. ritual performance does not merely represent social structure. Bowen (1989) on political uses of salat in Indonesia. nor what she (or the parents) thinks or believes. The obligations and pledges she undertakes within the ritual frame have a force that other promises seldom have. but what she does. she is expected to behave like an adult. can be used strategically to gain a competitive edge over others by an overt display of piety. or it can be used explicitly for political ends. as with the Friday congregational namaz. Whether she actually obeys these precepts is a different matter. cf.10 This brings to light the problematic concept of shared understanding entailed in the notion of ‘socialisation’. as attested by the presence of vice squads on the Cf. but acts upon it. This means that it can also lead to change. which is intended to inscribe discipline on mind and body through repetitive submissive body postures. The expression of learned behaviour can be highly variable.178 chapter six ceremony. 9 . but a “lived interpretation” of them (Moore 1999: 13). presents) and has an effect on the world. 2005: 122 ff. Humphry & Laidlaw’s comment (1994: 81).9 The point about the use of the body in ritual is that it communicates better than words. Cf. But if she does not obey. For instance namaz. To kneel and prostrate is to incorporate subordination clearly. This is partly why the ritual does not simply express abstract ideas or prior concepts. relatives and school authorities spend much time over the preparations. What the girl ‘does’ is also a public proclamation of the moral precepts that the ritual lays down. Bourdieu (1992) on body ‘hexis’ (the embodiment of ‘habitus’).

despite being considered as mentally immature. In the home-edited videotape that one of the initiated girls showed me. whereby individual responsibility (or autonomy) is promoted at the same time as duty to society. the third-grade girls are veiled throughout the ceremony as they go through the various stages of performing namaz and singing songs about veiling. Parents and school authorities commonly video the proceedings. The following example of a home-edited video recording made of an initiation ceremony held at a school in north Tehran demonstrates the point. but the gendered discourses deny women the same degree of independence as that granted to men. It is a statement of the importance of the occasion for the individuals concerned. Her husband. the very avowal of her maturity fails to result in a corresponding autonomy to make independent decisions over her own life. society and the state expect obedience from her. though deemed mentally mature. ironically. Boys. At the same time. are left to grow into maturity and develop ability for self-regulation without the degree of public attention given to girls. by contrast. There is an underlying tension between the contradictory values of conformity and autonomy. are less circumscribed. A girl of nine. the girl becomes socially visible. the video can be used as a creative tool to re-present an event.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 179 streets to control subversive uses of hejab. What the novices are supposed to have learned in the ritual is neither necessarily equally effective or indisputable. Henceforth. The possibility for challenges to learned behaviour is inherent in the ritual itself. Pre-pubescent boys. Some of them are wearing swimwear and the video film is accompanied . But the tape ends with a splendid display of a large collection of male and female American Barbie dolls. rather than the Islamic ones that can be found on the market. but this is much more than merely recording of the event. is paradoxically curtailed from taking independent decisions by the very ceremony that celebrates that maturity. A degree of autonomy comes with marriage. The public celebration of a girl’s life-cycle event not only subjects her conduct to wider public scrutiny. thus opening up possibilities. but also undermines familial autonomy over the child’s upbringing. As a result. Different thresholds and degrees of maturity are imagined for boys and girls. The tension between conformity and autonomy is a source for agency by default. These tell a different story to the docile bodies and conformist subjects celebrated in the song sung at Shokufeh’s house about veiling.

Clearly. contingent on certain cultural assumptions that are themselves subject to reinterpretation. however. even though she chose not to adhere to hejab in private. or rather identification. the girl makes ambiguity a personal goal. She seemed as proud of her collection of dolls. They see the event as an important first step for the girl in the process of ‘becoming’ a woman. she told me that it was her idea to include her dolls in the tape. . Contests over meanings inevitably begin at the point when actions are institutionalized. people appropriate official discourse in line with their concerns. When I spoke to the girl. bought on a trip abroad with her parents. the identities they inscribe are porous and contested. In effect.180 chapter six by western music. While it is true that ritual may implicate people in relations of power. these dolls promote an American gender ideal.14 Once back in their own homes. a process which is intended to control the very context within which actions are interpreted. it can also be an effective forum for challenge. as she was of the ceremony in which she had taken part in veiled piety. To ignore this diversity would mean an imposition of one set of values over others.12 She thereby reclaims and re-presents herself in her own terms. The example points to gender identity. The video film is in effect a subversion of the school performance. 14 See Humphrey & Laidlaw (1994: 155–157). 13 See Battaglia (1999: 126–28). The perspective taken by the mothers at the two events demonstrates the point. a polar opposite of an Islamic version based on female modesty. Their main concern 12 Debbora Battaglia suggests we should appreciate “self-ambiguation” as a supplementary capacity of persons (1999: 118).13 Theorists of gender ‘performance’ have located this indeterminacy at the heart of performance itself. as an ongoing process and how social values may change. Ritual performances are ambiguous and contain multiple perspectives. The simultaneous maintenance of two opposing gender values points to a gap between gender as discursively defined and the subjective experience of it. Blurring the contours of an inscribed identity. even though the girl herself may not have been aware of it nor intended it to be as such. Even when they are ‘official’ performances with an ideological force. the girl dislodges the certainty of a given cultural order by contesting the imposition of an essential identity.

This self-policing was not only workable but also a desirable project for women.: 113). rather than an individual affair. however. The state authorities in turn have a stake in this ritual. .a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 181 is her anticipated future marriage. In both events. the women assert their moral worth within relations of power. rather than being merely passive consumers of those moral codes. the authorities underline their definition of religion as a public. It might be argued that the mothers are merely disseminators. desirable choice and feel that they are taking part in the new religious order. much like the televised Friday congregational 15 Afsaneh Najmabadi argues that at the turn of the century in Iran. What makes this self-disciplining desirable are promises of reward in this world and the next. By appropriating and redefining a life course event. they align their personal interests with public goals. which “imputed all the disciplinary and regulatory functions of school to the womb. since it made her place as citizen in the nation possible (ibid. This is similar to what Mahmood (2001a: 203) calls a cultivated desire. The disciplinary and salvationist are constituted mutually as virtuous. Prayers were taken more seriously at the downtown ceremony. The event held in the villa in the north of the city was strongly linked to displays of wealth and the young girl’s perfunctory performance of her prayers went unnoticed. shaped by non-liberal traditions. promoting thereby its spiritual and religious features. there was far more a sense of having a party with fun and games rather than following prescribed performances as at the formal school ceremonies. They act both in self-interest and for common good as they see it. Not only did the bearer of the womb regulate the character of the fetus. that they see themselves as responsible citizens who make an informed. but now the regulatory process turned back upon the womb/woman” (1998: 93). preservers and arbiters of morality rather than agents in their own right. however. with shifts in the concepts of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’. By acting as arbiters of the moral code. Their conversations indicate. The collective performance of namaz at schools is intended to present an image of unity.15 In other words. This is not the same as the model of ‘false consciousness’ or social engineering. thereby making it possible in theory to claim equal citizenship. the womb began to be envisioned not simply as a vessel but as a school (maktab). They designate it officially “Celebration of Worship” ( jashn-e 'ebadat). which will be discussed more fully with regard to its gender implications further below.


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prayers held in the University grounds. The initiation rite becomes, as it were, a rite of legitimacy for a state that sees itself as the prime representative of the ‘common good’. It can be seen as a propaganda coup, publicising people’s purported loyalty to the new order. Despite presenting a unified image, the girls’ initiation ceremony is alive with internal divisions based on class. The report in the magazine “Woman of Today” (Zan-e Ruz) mentioned above is critical of the appropriation of the ritual by the middle classes, arguing that they celebrate the event with conspicuous display, devoid of the required spiritual elements, like birthday parties. Individual birthday parties in Iran have traditionally been more prevalent among the middle classes, whose western styles of life during the Shah’s era contributed to class tensions. The influential pre-revolutionary social criticism of the Marxist writer Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1981) centred on the notion of ‘west-toxication’ (gharb-zadegi ). It was not so much the ‘West’ that was the target of his criticism, but rather the privileged middle classes who associated themselves with the West, focusing in particular on women, apparently spellbound by Western goods. These ideas are reflected also in the playground jingle that the girls sang as the novice opened her presents in the ceremony held downtown. The playful questions in the two last lines of the song (“Why did you not bring more? Why did you not give me a villa?”) clearly bear a comment on social inequality. The polarities and juxtapositions of East and West, down-town and up-town ( pa"in shar, bala shahr) continue as part of everyday discourses of self-definition in Iran.16 This new girls’ initiation ceremony must be seen in this context. Afsaneh Najmabadi argues that the Islamists have appropriated the class-based discourse of ‘westoxication’ as a means to control social conduct (Najmabadi 1991: 65–67). But it is equally possible to see the ceremony as an assertion of cultural distinctiveness vis-à-vis the West through appropriation and conversion of a Western birthday party into an Islamic event. Mrs Monir indicated as much in the ritual held in the north of the city. Describing the ceremony as a ‘birthday party’ with Islamic features, she added that one can be ‘modern’ and ‘Islamic’ at the same time.

16 See, Fischer & Abedi on discourses of authenticity and identity among Iranian immigrants and exiles in the US (1990: 253 ff.).

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Many of the traits of the Western birthday party are redefined in Islamic terms.17 For instance, the birthday is shifted to coincide with an auspicious religious anniversary rather than being fixed to the child’s birth date, implying a spiritual birth rather than an earthly one. Cakes, which are central features of the Western birthdays, are shaped like a Qur"an or the Ka'beh. The participants include as many adults (mostly relatives) as children, and it is strictly single sex, apart from pre-pubescent boys. The ideals promoted are simplicity and modesty, even if they are flaunted. The responsibility of the child to uphold the social and moral expectations of society are valued above independence and individuality. The songs and the presents reflect society’s expectations of the girl child’s role as an adult rather than cater for the child’s individual taste. This is reflected by the type of presents the girl receives in the ceremony held in the south (a ring, a veil, a toy sewing machine), which one of the relatives calls her “trousseau”. This moral order is distinctly feminised. Both gender and class have always been highly charged nationalist issues tied up in complex ways with the West.18 We know from Mary Douglas (1966) that when a society perceives a threat, social controls are used to regulate its boundaries. We also know that these boundaries are gendered (Kandiyoti 1991). As a marker of ‘pure’, ‘authentic’ self, one that is constructed as both ‘Islamic’ and ‘modern’, the girl initiate becomes a means for resistance to a perceived cultural ‘pollution’ from the West (cf. Harrison 1999). Nonetheless, since its inception, the ceremony has rapidly grown into a competitive, status-enhancing event for the newly rich, in effect subverting the feminized ideals of modesty and simplicity. Assertions of rigid cultural boundaries reify a ‘unified self ’, disguising continued internal inequalities. The politics of ‘authenticity’, as Deniz Kandiyoti (1991: 8) argues, are but disguised metaphors for internal disquiet and social conflicts based on divisions such as class. ‘Tradition’, as Hobsbawm (1983) notes, is ‘invented’ in the face of rapid change.19 One of the themes in the literature on globalisation

See, Gerd Baumann’s (1992) comparative analysis of British and Punjabi birthday parties held in the UK. 18 See, Kandiyoti (1991) and the many contributions in Abu-Lughod ed. (1998). 19 See, Sahlins (1999: 5, 399–421) on the opposed concepts of an ‘invention of tradition’ and ‘inventiveness of tradition’ in a discussion on the diverse anthropological interpretations of ‘culture’.



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is the paradoxical assertion of cultural distinctiveness by means of an indigenisation of modernity.20 Another specific example demonstrates the idea particularly clearly. At a staged girls’ initiation ceremony held at a private school in north Tehran, which I attended, the headmistress announced that they had invited a professional child psychologist to interview the girls. A clean-shaven young man came on stage and asked each girl what they believed was the purpose of namaz and what it meant to them personally. He thereby encouraged the child to consciously reflect on her religion rather than simply repeat by rote-received opinion. By contrast, in the video films that I saw of ceremonies held at state funded schools in south Tehran, clergymen, who asked each girl a few questions on their religious duties, performed this role. Possibly, the involvement of a psychologist was an attempt in a wealthy part of town by the school authorities to make the event more attractive to their secular minded middle-class parents whose children attended the school. In any case, the participation of a psychologist in a ritual presented as religious can be seen as an attempt to reconcile religion with modernity. It indicates a process of objectification and rationalisation that is part of the changing nature of religious discourse (Eickelman 1992). Far from creating unity, this relatively recent girl’s initiation ritual has become a forum of competing interpretations, where countless relations are negotiated and shaped, so that in practice, the ritual is neither merely reactive nor the product of shared meaning.

Constructing Binary Genders: Concerns over Reproduction and the Patriline Marilyn Strathern (1993) argues that puberty rituals are about producing gender difference, because pre-pubescent children are of an indeterminate gender. Physical difference at birth does not automatically produce a gendered body. This was shown particularly well by Janice Boddy’s (1989) study of female circumcision in Sudan. In other words, the genitalia do not themselves determine an identity as male or female. Rather the feminine and the masculine must be


Sahlins (1999: 40), Harrison (1999), and further references in Harrison (1999).

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produced through performance. The idea of an indeterminate gender with regard to pre-pubescent children is confirmed by the fact that in Iran, girls and boys can mix and play without adhering to the religious rules called mahramiyat, which concern separation of potential marriage partners through gender avoidance, such as veiling.21 As we have seen in the girls’ ceremonies described above, the rules of gender separation apply only at puberty.22 How exactly gender difference is produced through the ceremony will be examined more closely below. It was indicated above that Strathern discards the idea of ‘socialization’ through puberty rituals, suggesting instead that, “Far from arguing that such ritual displays society to the individual, we might wish to argue that ritual brings out of the person the social relations of which he or she is composed” (1993: 48).23 ‘Socialisation’ entails not just the problematic concept of shared understanding, but also the metaphor of ‘completion’; it is as though ‘society’ imposes its unified set of values on the unsocialized—hence ‘incomplete’—child and thus ‘completes’ them (1993: 44–45). Rather, persons are the outcome of the acts of others, such as the acts of parents toward producing a child (1993: 47–48). Thus, a pre-puberty child is already a ‘social’ being, composed of numerous acts and relations, and need not be made into one. What a puberty ritual does is to ‘decompose’ the male/female aspects of the ‘androgynous’ child (or render them ‘incomplete’, metaphorically speaking) by putting them in a clearly demarcated state of masculine or feminine, hence sexually differentiated, by gendering their capacities and potentialities (1988: 212). In other words, a puberty ritual is not just about transforming social roles and statuses, but about transforming capacities, such as the capacity to reproduce in preparation for marriage and reproduction. They may thus become reproductive members of society, and thereby become ‘complete’ in their new relationship as reproducers (1993, 1988: 14–15).

See Khatib-Chahidi (1993) for details of the rules of mahramiyat. Cf. Fischer & Abedi’s footnote reference to celebrations of Qur"anic literacy for five year old boys, which implies the androgynous status of pre-puberty boys: “The student is treated like a bride: tablecloth held over the head, nuts and sugar balls thrown over it into the air” (1990: 459: fn. 19). 23 See, also Strathern (1988: 11–15, 315, 321–24).



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I will apply Marilyn Strathern’s ideas to examine the ways in which gender difference is established metaphorically in the girls’ puberty ritual. I suggest that here, ideas about blood are a key to conceptions of gender difference, and as with the Muharram rituals, bear an ideological message relating to patrilineal descent. I also suggest that the puberty rituals held in the two home based ceremonies described above are modelled on the future marriage and wedding of the girl. For the mothers and other female relatives, the principal concern of the ceremony is the girl’s anticipated future marriage rather than the commencement of the religious duties. While the performance of namaz may be the most prominent aspect of the ritual, it is the least important with regard to establishing gender difference. Parallels will be drawn between the girls’ initiation ceremony and the male rites of martyrdom and circumcision as key rites of passage into manhood for the male gender. This, I suggest may be the reason why the boys’ puberty ritual has failed to receive the same degree of attention as that of the girls’ despite being mandatory.

Ideas about Blood A major theme that has emerged in the literature on personhood concerns the primacy of substance, especially sexual and bodily substances (breast milk, semen, blood), which are powerful metaphors that shape notions of identity and relatedness.24 Muslim scholars define a child’s identity primarily in terms of patrilineal ties of blood as discussed in Chapter 5. Marriage between patrilineal relatives who are conceived of as ‘sharing the same blood’ (ham khun) is forbidden.25 Breast milk, although recognized as creating ties, only comes

24 The primacy of substance as a relation is derived from the notion of ‘partibility’ (Strathern 1988: 12–13, who refers to Marriott 1976), and has generated considerable analytical impetus in social and cultural theory (see, Lutkehaus & Roscoe 1995: 14). Consequently, anthropologists have looked more closely at idioms of relatedness, questioning classic models of kinship based on conceptions of ‘biology’. See, Carsten (1995, 1997, 2000) on ties of food and feeding, and see Strathern (1993b) on the debate underlying the new reproductive technologies about whether priority should be given to biology and body substance (woman who lends her womb) or to intent (parents who pay someone for the womb). 25 Ladislav Holy argues, expressions of preference for marriage with patrilateral parallel cousins (father’s brother’s daughter, FBD) are rare in practice and are not so much about a preference for endogamy or marriage to the actual genealogical

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into play in certain cases.26 In the initiation ceremony held in south Tehran at Shokufeh’s house, the girl’s patrilineal identity was emphasised through the presence of a paternal aunt. The fact that the father was missing in the aftermath of war makes the presence of the father’s sister all the more important, to the extent of delaying the celebration until she could undertake the journey from another city. She also takes a leading role in quizzing the novice on her religious duties. The significant attention the aunt receives during the ritual gives focus to the girl’s paternal affiliation. It brings out the hierarchy of value in the social relationships of which the girl is composed. The actual onset of puberty in the form of menses is however overlooked in favour of patrilineal descent and agnatic blood. A girl’s first menses is at the core of her reproductive power and marks the time when she can conceive, but this is eclipsed by means of cultural taboos. The beginning of a girl’s puberty is set at the age of nine, irrespective of the onset of the menses. These are, however, thought to be imminent, as indicated by reckoning her ninth year by the lunar (not solar) calendar, which implies the twenty-eight day ‘lunar’ menstrual cycle. Nonetheless, the ritual is treated as a marker of spiritual and mental maturity and focuses on the girl’s moral duties and responsibilities rather than her puberty, which indicates her capacity to reproduce. Far from seeing menstruation as reproductive power, the religious discourse construes it as a form of pollution, which is governed by numerous rules and taboos in the book of precepts. Menstruating women are for example not allowed to perform acts of worship, touch the Qur"an or enter a mosque and must abstain from sexual intercourse.27 Unlike semen, which is also considered to be polluting, menstrual blood cannot be ritually purified with ritual ablution. The consequence of this idea is far reaching. Given that ritual ablutions are a prerequisite for all acts of worship, women cannot perform

FBD, but represent an expression for the continued incorporation of the girl in the patriline (1989: 126). 26 Mother’s milk has a bearing in cases of ‘milk-mothering’. Those who have shared a wet nurse are considered as ‘milk relatives’ and marriage between them is forbidden. 27 The Qur"an (S2: 222) refers to sexual intercourse during menstruation as 'adhan, major sin. See Spellberg (1996) on constructs of menstruation in post-Qur"anic texts.

male circumcision (khatneh) (removal of the foreskin) is a key ritual for male See. 39. that which poses a threat to the social system is categorized as ‘matter out of place’—like ‘dirt’. illness. for instance. The idea of male blood as fecund receives its most elaborate cultural elaborations in the men’s ritual of martyrdom (Chapter 5).29 Gender opposition centres here on conceptions of blood. the body. Douglas argues (1966).28 Menstruation (heyz) also has connotations with shame and things problematic. One is called heyz and is construed as dead and polluting. following which the religious duties were observed. as it were. Bouhdiba (2000) and Hoffman (1996). or even a wet dream by a boy counts as a rite of passage.30 In Iran.188 chapter six as many acts of worship as men. The contrast between the two types of blood is also reflected terminologically. a blood that lives on to regenerate the community at large. marriage. Bruck (1994) for a ritual performed formerly for both girls and boys in Yemen for competent recitations of the Qur"an. the passage into manhood is constructed on ideas about regenerative blood. 28 29 . Fischer & Abedi for a celebration of competent recitation of the Qur"an for a five-year-old boy whose teacher was a female mulla (1990: 28). the recitation of the Qur"an. in the arteries and metaphorically binds the patriline. In Chapter 1. male circumcision is a key rite of passage into manhood for the male gender as various other scholars note in different contexts. Bilu (2000). death. (puberty) instead of heyz. Apart from military recruitment and martyrdom. What is important is that the taboo on menstrual womb-blood (heyz) eclipses female reproductive capacity in favour of agnatic blood (khun) that runs. by using indirect terms of reference like adat (habits) or taklif. hence elaborate rules for purity/pollution. While the passage into womanhood is constructed on the denial of reproductive capacity. v. 30 See. In anthropology all rituals are seen as ‘rites of passage’ (van Gennep 1960) not just initiations into puberty: birth. religious anniversaries. the other is called khun and is considered as pure and fecund. dreams (see Chapter 2). For an account of a wet dream at the age of fourteen. The exaltation of a martyr’s blood is set against the taboo of menstrual blood. Fn. and people meticulously avoid drawing attention to it. hence it is reasoned by religious scholars that they are naturally spiritually inferior to men. also Buckley & Gottlieb (1988: 37–39) and Delaney (1988) on ideas about menstrual taboo in relation to more fundamental conceptions like fertility. human fertility and reproduction. cf. This discourse is based on the controversial statement by Imam 'Ali discussed in Chapter 1. Imam 'Ali’s statement. see Fischer & Abedi (1990: 40–41). See. See.

who describes a Tunisian circumcision (2000: 27) and Bilu (2000: 37–38) among Jews. and also Bouhdiba. while in Hebrew. For religious converts. Parallels may be drawn with male circumcision in Judaism. 32 On the parallels between circumcision and marriage ceremonies see. The act of giving birth is associated with pollution in the religious discourse. In tandem with ideas about male blood as pure. While a girl’s genitals are associated with shame ('eyb). In addition. though highly prized. Unlike menstruation. religious affiliation is not dependent on circumcision. a mother 31 For structural links between Moroccan sacrifice and circumcision blood. male circumcision is openly acknowledged and in the past. Moreover. which not only paves the way for salvation. an expression of will suffices to become Muslim. fecund and regenerative. the initiated girl wears a white dress. It is now commonly rationalized on medical grounds and is performed unceremoniously in hospitals for newborns or in early infancy (formerly up to around the age of five). The Arabic khatana means both to become related by marriage and to circumcise. Lawrence Hoffman (1996) sees the significance of the circumcision in Judaism in terms of gender differentiation focused on the shedding of blood. among the pillars of Islamic faith but based on practice (sonnat. R. Tapper (1979: 167–173). It is not. After childbirth. she is dependent on the male.31 The different treatments of male and female blood in Iran support Hoffman’s argument.32 In fact the word for circumcision (khatneh. He argues that it is not the removal of the foreskin that is central. which is also treated as a hallmark of Jewish identity. the genital organs have differing valuations. . which is a common sign of purity and virginity. is associated with nurture rather than creation. but it is widely treated as the hallmark of Muslim identity. but is automatically determined at birth by being born to a Muslim father.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 189 identity. Arabic sunna). hatan means ‘bridegroom’ or ‘son-in-law’ as well as circumcision (Bilu 2000: 37–38). see Elaine Combs-Schilling (1989). Motherhood. but the shedding of blood. that of a boy receives playful endearments like ‘golden penis’ (dudul tala). but also provides the necessary contrast to menstrual blood to symbolize gender dichotomy and women’s marginal status within the rabbinic system (1996: 96). even celebrated much like marriage ceremonies. though necessary. however. denoting that to conceive. from the Arabic khatana) makes the wedding connection clearly.

see Diski (2001). 35 Theories of generation are varied within Islamic texts as well as in popular discourses. effecting the transition of the boy into a man. females embody masculinity through agnatic blood. humorous critique of Gilmore. eclipsing (of womb blood) and encompassment (of reproductive capacity) of an imaginary opposite. Sanders 1991. Ch. A ‘unitary role’ only exists in the imaginary discourse of gender. corresponding to the classical Islamic understandings of Qur"anic doctrine of creation (Mussalam 1983: Ch. as Marilyn Strathern elucidates in a 33 The anthropological explanations that initiation rites are merely a device to bring female reproductive power under men’s control and that men claim female procreative power to themselves is a contentious theme in anthropology. in medieval theories.35 Semen both begets and promotes growth. assumes the power to make things grow. Men do not and cannot claim credit for. yet enclosed and caused by something that is not itself ). whose concern is not whether the rituals establish male supremacy as such. both men and women were thought to contribute to generation. 3. cit. For instance. Lutkehaus & Roscoe (1995: 15–22) and Strathern (1988: 98–100). Just as males embody femininity by virtue of semen.33 They can only intervene by causing the action through ‘encompassing’ female reproductive power (Strathern 1988: 332). The contribution of both male and female elements for human reproduction was scientifically established in the West as late as the 1960’s. op. 34 Strathern rejects the use of the term ‘appropriation’ in these contexts because of the implied domination. a boy’s transition to puberty depends primarily on his first seminal emission. For psychological theories. and prefers the notion of ‘encompassment’ (an entity distinct from. so go to them and sow [your seed] as you wish” (S 2: 223) (Delaney 1987). since each action rests on a previous act or leads to another (1988: 329–332). Hence. with women providing the womb/uterus. By contrast. but no ovum or female seed for the sperm to meet and fuse with: “women are given to you as fields to be sown. Paradoxically. transforming the boy to manhood. See. which like breastmilk. the act of giving birth. The ‘composite person’ is rendered ‘incomplete’ through processes of depluralisation. 5). the Qur"an alludes that there is only sperm and uterus. The idea corresponds with the still widely held popular monogenetic theory of reproduction that sees only semen as the crucial reproductive agent. see Gilmore (2001) and for an incisive.190 chapter six and anyone who has come in contact with her at childbirth must undergo elaborate ritual ablutions in observance of the religious rules. men come to encompass the reproductive capacity of the symbolic ‘woman’. or ‘appropriate’ (Strathern 1988: 329–332). It is for this reason that. .34 An emphasis on semen and male blood comes to stand for the cause. but the way analysts promote such claims by the imposition of their own (Western) gender assumptions. such as detachment (by gender avoidance).

So how do women relate to the symbolic representations? They have a rather different take on things. the symbolic categories ‘woman’ and ‘man’ cannot be reduced to actual women and men (Moore 1999: 25. They are neither merely representations nor imaginary ideals. Motherhood being central to feminized identity. In contrast to the ceremonies held at schools. They refer to the girl as a ‘bride whose groom awaits her somewhere out there’. “The apparent concern in girl’s initiation rites with marriage and maternity is not only a concern with reproduction. Rather. ‘Repluralisation’ Symbolic gender constructs have a powerful effect on lived reality in daily life. but a dramatic enactment of the moral order which is a society’s constitution” (1978: 7). the initiated girl’s femaleness comes to be based in part on an all-male substance. Indeed. but have an effect on the world.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 191 different context. the relation between the social and the symbolic is neither determining nor straightforward (Moore 1999: 25. 28). which one of the women calls her trousseau. Nor does it attribute to men sole agency for childbirth. Ideas about reproduction provide thus a powerful lens for wider social and political processes. there is clearly a gap between the symbolic eclipsing of women’s reproductive capacity and their experience of their body and its capacity to reproduce. In other words. As Jean La Fontaine points out. the women’s conversations convey a manifestly positive attitude to the girl’s expected marriage and to their own role as mothers. However. “a sex cannot be conflated with its attributes” (1988: 102). 28). the girls . the initiated girl comes to represent a means of establishing the legitimacy of the social and moral order based on the ideology of patrilineal descent. Their preoccupation is with what lies ahead for the girl. In the two ceremonies I attended. The bridal metaphor is further reflected in the prominent display of items like the large doll in bridal gown surrounded by presents like a ring. It is clear that the contrast between the menstrual taboo and the positive acclaim of male blood and semen is neither about the glorification of ‘men’ nor the denigration of ‘women’. toy sewing machine and picture of a house. The mothers are concerned with the girl’s anticipated future marriage and the contributions they themselves as mothers make to social life.

Their mothers appear to be both delighted and proud that their girls are admired. This. We have here women reclaiming their maternal contribution to birthing and sociality in a way that shapes their positive self-conceptions. marriage is made attractive as they take centre stage. Samanu is made of germinating wheat and is associated with Fatemeh’s craving during pregnancy. the girl’s anticipated future marriage and motherhood takes on a positive. but mothers control the arrangements and negotiations leading to the marriage. so that women play a key role in spouse selection and strategic alliances. but is also a symbol of fertility. the ‘decomposed’ girl is ‘repluralized’ whereby a mother/child image is added to the child’s unitary paternal composition. transforming the body into an object of desire. Continuing with Marilyn Strathern’s metaphors in a reverse sequence. They say that they pity childless marriages and consider voluntary childless marriage unthinkable. the paternal aunt teaches the girl this prayer. The energy they devote to marriage-‘making’ makes evident their stake. through which they can also negotiate familial status. The adornment also sexualises the body. the bridal gown and the veil. At Shokufeh’s house. together with her designation “Mother of all Imams” as the sole link between the Prophet and his male successors. which strengthen their own position. thoroughly enjoying being the centre of attention. Marriage provides possibilities for the mothers themselves to make political claims by initiating the marriage alliances. Their interlinking ritual networks are a rich source for seeking and spreading information about familial histories. thereby becoming conduits for social relationships and ties. So. Birthing reappears as an outcome of multiple interactions and relations. ‘Birthing as a social act’ (Strathern 1988: 314–16) involves men as . The theme of fertility is suggested by the prayer called ‘Fatemeh’s rosary’ (tasbih-e Hazrat-e Zahra). from the women’s perspectives. saying that it is highly meritorious and propitious. For the girls. makes her a prime symbol of fertility. Fatemeh is associated not only with modesty and duty to husband and father. subverting thereby the symbols of purity and modesty denoted by the colour white. Children are to them not only a source of emotional satisfaction.192 chapter six wear make-up or gold jewellery as an expression of a transition to womanhood and are complemented for their good looks. which have regenerative associations (see Chapter 4). central role in the ceremony. but also a source for marital stability. A father’s formal consent for a girl’s marriage is required. with links to votive dishes like kachi and samanu.

but also on performance and various exchanges. which flies in the face of much conventional social theorizing. In other words. as constructed by the women. See MacCormack (1995: 12) for a critique of such theories.36 What I am suggesting is that if children are construed as corporeally continuous with fathers through ties of blood in this patrilineal system. . does not depend solely on human fertility and bodily substances. they embody their mothers in various other kinds of actions. In a sense. Men’s claims to ties of blood rests on the maternal contributions. Gender comes to represent different types of agency in different contexts. with implications for wider social control. men ‘make the babies’ while women ‘make the exchanges’. like marriage exchanges initiated by mothers.a girls’ ‘initiation’ ritual 193 husbands as well as the actions of women as mothers and makers of marriage alliances. 36 Much of anthropological theorizing on marriage is presumed on men’s control of marriage arrangements and the idea that men exchange women to gain access to their fertility. successful ‘reproduction’.

or “'Omar’s dirge” (rowzeh-ye 'Omar). “effigies were .CHAPTER SEVEN REVERSAL AND LICENCE ‘OFFICIAL’ AND ‘PERFORMATIVE’ MEMORY1 The high-spirited performances I describe here have much in common with what anthropologists have commonly called ‘reversal rituals’. Nowhere are matters to do with the body and sexuality dealt with so explicitly in a public forum as in these rituals. but never to this extent. so that the ritual bears the popular name “Killing the Caliph” ('Omar koshan).2 It needs to be emphasized that the clergymen leaders of the 1 The term ‘performative memory’. whereby the participants not only tolerate. The ritual ostensibly celebrates the death of the Sunni Arab Caliph ‘Omar (ad 634–644). Beeman (1991) and Fischer. which call for letting go of all reserve and inhibition. They were without doubt the most popular in the women’s annual ritual cycle. who was assassinated by a Shi'i Persian slave called Abu Lo"lo". 'eyd-e 'Omar). mockery and abusive mirth while Abu Lo"lo" is praised. The ones I attended toward the end of my fieldwork dispelled any lingering assumptions about modesty that I had seen as central to women’s piety. gleefully recalled and anticipated. but also are expected to indulge in the very acts that they normally scorn outside the specified ritual context. See the Introduction on the discussion about ritual performance as a site of contest rather than a means of communicating ‘collective representations’. In the verses composed for the ritual. My outlook had been continually modified and tested in the course of my work. See Alberts (1963: 899–901). I had heard of but never seen one of these rituals. rather than in the sense used by Connerton. They are characterized by carnival-like inversions of norms of conduct. In the past. who writes that. hence as legitimising a present social order (1991: 3–4). based mostly on secondary accounts. 'Omar is apparently the main object of ritualized humiliation. as a means of conveying and sustaining images of the past. 'Omar’s effigy was publicly burnt festively. coined by Connerton (1991). 2 Literature on this ritual is scant. is employed here in the sense of contestation over ‘official memory’ and hence the present social order. or mockingly “Celebration for 'Omar” ( jashn-e 'Omar.

writing just after the revolution (1980: 177) was of the same impression. another designation frequently used for the ritual was ‘Celebration in honour of Fatemeh’ (mowludi-ye/jashn-e Hazrat-e Zahra). Certainly. “If you love the Prophet’s household (Ahl-e Beyt). antagonism toward 'Omar. It came as some surprise to me to hear toward the end of my fieldwork that the ritual was still alive and popular.reversal and licence 195 Islamic Republic have officially banned this ritual on the grounds that it insults a figure revered by Sunni Muslims. straw. What were once popular and widespread rituals. who provides also early travellers accounts. the women who took part saw their participation in terms of their devotion to Fatemeh and self-definition as Shi'i. The constructed of 'Umar with wood. But although the ritual is framed within a Sunni/Shi'i oppositional discourse. and obscene verses would be composed” (1980: 177). For historical overviews see Algar (1990) and Calmard (1999: 161–63). 'Omar usurped the rightful succession of 'Ali to the Caliphate after the Prophet’s death in AD 632. Michael Fischer. the mere mention of 'Omar’s name brought forth spontaneous oaths of damnation (la'nat) and I often heard the women say. neighbourhoods would compete to make more impressive effigies. you must share their joys and sorrows”. now take place only indoors among trusted circles of acquaintances. Abu Bakr (AD 632–634) and Othman (AD 644–656) was kept up throughout the year by the women. A popular story narrated in their dirges and poems was that 'Omar insulted and threatened Fatemeh. so that Fatemeh damned (la'n) him. Hence. openly celebrated also in the streets. In the jalaseh and other rituals that I attended during my fieldwork. . There is no doubt that political considerations are involved. this only deflects from the ‘carnivalesque’ (Bakhtin 1968) questioning of the ‘high’ and ‘low’ internal to the Iranian society itself. fire crackers. According to Shi'i. which is the central point of interest here. donkey turds. But as with other rituals in present-day Iran. injuring her when he pushed open the door as he stormed into her house. khun-e zakhm-e sineh-at). along with the two other Sunni Caliphs. this one is fraught with contemporary political resonance. I had heard that it had almost died out. It denotes Fatemeh’s joy and approval of those who celebrate 'Omar’s death. who regularly accused the Caliphs of wrongdoings. 3 A popular refrain of a dirge that I heard in many rituals expresses empathy with Fatemeh’s physical injury and pain: “Your broken ribs. the blood from your chest injury” (pahlu-ye shekasteh-at. cloth.3 Accordingly.

derogatory references to them are carefully avoided at official levels. I heard that rather than resort to degrading behaviour. 15).badjens. Slogans of ‘Death to America’ replace curses against 'Omar. whose deeds. with children burning effigies in the streets (BadJens 2000 < http://www.5 With the establishment of the Islamic Republic (1979).196 chapter seven evident insult to Sunni sentiment has always been a cause of tension in relations between Shi'i Iran and its Sunni Arab neighbours. In a televised Friday sermon at Tehran University. should be remembered in written form. . 'Omar was singled out among the first three Caliphs. including his contributions to the spread of Islam. 7 Even derogatory writing has been criticized. since abusive poetry was publicly recited against the Caliphs as early as the Saljugs and continued with the Mongols (Algar 1990). the ritual may have preceded the>). He has been variously a demonized ‘other’. the ritual was celebrated in homes in Qum.6 The anniversary of 'Omar’s death is no longer marked in official calendars. Shi'i should respect 'Omar as an ideological opponent. so that the works of the Safavid cleric Majlesi about 'Omar are no longer reprinted (Buchta 1994: 567 n. 4 Under the Safavids. 5 Under Nader Shah Afshar (1736) and the Qajar Naser-al-Din Shah (1848–96) (Algar 1990). for it was under his leadership that the Arabs finally defeated the Persian Sassanid Empire at the battle of Nahavand (AD 640–642). the traditional foe. the clergymen leaders took various steps to prevent the celebrations of 'Omar’s death in their attempts towards creating unity among Muslims as a means of confronting Western cultural and political incursions (Buchta 1994). According to an on-line feminist journal based in Europe.4 During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. a religiously inspired hostility was re-directed against the European powers and political considerations led to attempts to ban the ritual cursing. replaced instead by a “week of solidarity” (hafteye vahdat) among Muslims. Ever since Khomeini expressed the view that the Caliphs “adhered to the example of the Prophet in the outer conduct of their personal lives” (Algar 1990). The celebrations are officially denounced as “rituals of debauchery and cursing” (majales-e sabb va la'n). 6 The suppression of the ritual seems to have been still in force in 2000 though with less effect. the theological centre itself.7 The figure of 'Omar has thus been the locus of shifting discourses and conflicting meanings. The ritual was first instituted alongside the Muharram passion plays in the sixteenth century to legitimize the change in religious direction as a hallmark of Safavid rule and had a nationalist flavour.

Beeman 1991: 300) . As an established preacher. negotiating boundaries of gender. One woman even thought that 'Omar was among the forces that killed Husseyn in AD 680. she herself prudently no longer participated. class and political authority. Mrs Omid did not admonish any of her followers for taking part in these rituals. thereby repossessing their identity by redefining their history through performance. The performances address fundamental social and cultural values and assumptions. As one woman told me. But as people became increasingly disillusioned. attempts to suppress the ritual merely led to its renewed vigour. But it would be too simple to see the 'Omar ritual merely as a site of conflict between Iran and its Arab neighbours or the West. In each case. 'Omar’s identity itself seemed to be in doubt. Not all the women with whom I spoke were aware of the historical roots of the ritual in the sixteenth century. and it soon became politicized by the very attempts made to abolish what the women so clearly enjoyed. She made clear that forced forgetting only opens the way for remembering a censored ‘official’ history. 8 'Omar’s role in the invasion of the Sassanid Empire did not surface in these rituals and may not have been widely known. stories of the past depend on the experience of the present and become true through ‘doing’. an idea which may have been more widespread (cf. The women told me that in the first decade after the revolution of 1979 they had stopped celebrating the ritual as a measure of continued support for the new regime. it is important to consider how people relate to official discourse about their history and identity. The 'Omar ritual is not simply about a knowledge of the historical past. Given the concern of nation states with the representation of the past. But instead of ‘performative memory’ legitimising the established order (Connerton 1991).reversal and licence 197 a legitimate ideological opponent. The rituals described below will reveal that far more is at stake in these rituals than a concern with religious or national identity. and this theme did not emerge in any of the performances or conversations that I witnessed. In one instance. they ‘do’ what they do so as not to forget. or a figure praised for the survival and spread of Islam. I argue that 'Omar serves as a prime symbol for critique internal to the society itself.8 Rather. it becomes a site of contestation. Alberts 1963: 900. the 'Omar ritual has always served political leaders to consolidate their own rule.

I met Minu the following day at her house downtown and on the way. Field note Diary Entries 10 Rabi-I 1414 AHQ/28 August 1993 On the eve of the 10th Rabi I. As it was long past Fatemeh’s birthday anniversary. Realizing that I am a newcomer. the day 'Omar is said to have been assassinated. “Whoever is not wearing bright colours with an item of red should go back home and change”. She told me we had been invited to a 'mowludi in honour of Fatemeh at a neighbour’s house. she told me that this was an 'Omar ritual and that it was particularly propitious for making vows to Fatemeh. I received a mysterious phone call from Minu. At the time of my research it was celebrated intermittently over a period of about three weeks. but merely stressed that I would certainly enjoy it. up until the 27th of the month. from the eve of the 9th Rabi I. I was puzzled. when I attended the last of the four rituals to which I was invited. with lots of giggling and shrieks of laughter. One woman tells me brusquely that I must leave my black chador downstairs. who is one of Mrs Omid’s dedicated followers. celebrates 'Omar’s death every year in fulfilment of a vow she had made to Fatemeh. she had relished taking part. but one was an open house held at a religious centre (Hosseyniyeh) in the basement of a private house.198 chapter seven though in the past. changing their . Each one was a gripping performance. making her presence felt through the verses she had composed for the ritual. someone announces with glee. As we enter. Minu realized my hesitation. Three were by invitation to private houses. so that they all had a quality of charged expectancy even before they began. she adds mischievously that it is religiously disapproved of (makruh) to wear black on a day of mourning such as this (meant mockingly). through which she had been able to buy her house. Red is the colour associated with 'Omar. Minu and I join the impatient queue of women waiting their turn to reach the mirror in a small room filled with guests putting on makeup. She added that our hostess. They were all downtown. The air of secrecy before the rituals took place added to the excitement. a very pious woman. My field notes read as follows: The house has a merry atmosphere.

a funny red cap on her head and large dangling earrings. lit. Minu insists on colouring my lips with bright red lipstick and painting rouge on my cheeks. which are cracked open between the teeth. They are seated all over the carpeted floor of a large sitting room laughing and talking with each other. removing their headscarves and folding their black chadors into a neat pile. announces: Today we are invited to join Fatemeh in her celebration. a colourful sack-like tunic dress. If on this day we do vulgar acts and use obscene language. This ritual is held in her honour. I let Minu do as she sees fit. Whoever does not join in the revelry and joy is not a friend of our great lady. Such language is not sinful if directed at 'Omar. Upstairs there is an assembly of around a hundred women of all ages and young girls wearing festive clothes. it is because it is appropriate for 'Omar. The term for popcorn (chos-e fil. but I’m the only real mourner!’ She is a star of the burlesque. calling it 'Omar’s rosary and that white melon (kharbuzeh) and turnips coated with flour are also popular for these rituals. From time to time she lifts her skirt to reveal a pair of long frilly underpants. A short stocky woman in her early forties. ‘Today is 'Omar’s death. This is why we will use obscene language. Their enemies are our enemies. Some say we should only damn (la'nat) 'Omar. for she is a good performer. She bends over to display a caricaturized portrait of 'Omar drawn on the backside of her underpants. The centre of attraction is Mrs Sima the hostess. The more we insult him the . she is dressed in a deliberately comic and frivolous way in bright red from head to toe. donning colourful festive clothes. with red slippers and stockings. a child’s red plastic shoulder bag. We cannot love the Prophet’s household (Ahl-e Beyt) and remain indifferent to their enemies. The conversations stop as Mrs Sima’s daughter. But we think he deserves more than that. Minu told me that they used to string popcorn. Turning to me she says with mock sadness. In front of us are dishes piled high with salted popcorn and dried seeds (tokhmeh).reversal and licence 199 thick black stockings to light nylon ones. dressed all in white. We are served sherbet instead of tea and help ourselves to standard 'Omar ritual refreshments that are intended to be comic. Her clowning makes everyone laugh with delight. but it is salty not sweet. just as their joys are our joys. elephant’s fart) is a scatological pun. The first syllable of the term for melon (khar-buzeh) means ‘donkey’ and turnips are commonly understood to have a flatulent effect. Popcorn resembles small sugar balls (noql) associated with weddings. It would have been futile to protest.

It is presented in the form of a mock trial. which has scatological innuendo: Did you say I am the Caliph? gofti ke man khalifeh-am [Chorus] You did wrong Did you say I founded the house? boniyan gar-e sagheefeh-am [Chorus] You did wrong On the day of Ghadir. No one actually gets up to dance at this point. but also at the two other Sunni Caliphs. The compositions are directed primarily at 'Omar. using a colloquial Persian phrase (goh khordi). and are intended to mock and humiliate. but as I later realized. Why else do we not do likewise at other celebrations (mowludi)? This announcement might have been partly for me the stranger in their midst. despite the repeated prompts in rhyme that the singer intersperses with her songs: It is the month of Rabi I Whoever does not dance is lazy mah-e rabi-ol-awwal-e har ke naraqs-e tanbaleh This singing and clapping continue throughout the ritual. She then immediately begins to sing a whole array of 'Omar compositions in rhyming couplets in an engaging voice. amidst the umma ruz-e Ghadir miyan-e jam'-e ommat Why did you not swear allegiance to 'Ali? magar nakardi ba 'Ali to bey'at . it was also intended to appease some of the women who were critical of the use of obscene language. the guests accompany the songs with rhythmic hand clapping and much gusto. Someone fetches a large metal pot and begins beating skilfully in a dance-like tempo (rengi). Each time. while pretending to honour them. the chorus of refrain by all those present confirms the accusation by saying: “You did wrong”. Without needing to be prompted. The verses contain many puns with double meanings. The lead singer begins by accusing 'Omar for claiming the Caliphate and continues with a series of other accusations in question format.200 chapter seven more joy Fatemeh will have. It is all for the joy of Fatemeh. Abu Bakr and Othman. one of the compositions is called ‘alms for 'Omar’ (kheyrat bara-ye 'Omar). For example. including scatological innuendos that result in roars of laughter.

Minu told me that one called ‘Damnation of the Twelve Imams’ (la'n-e davazdah Imam) is particularly popular and considered highly propitious for obtaining favours if repeated 360 times following the .reversal and licence Did you say I am the Caliph? gofti ke man khalifeh-am [Chorus] You did wrong You didn’t have courage for jehad Shoja'ati tu-ye jehad nadashti You didn’t remember divine command hokm-e elahi ra be yad nadashti Did you say I am the Caliph? gofti ke man khalifeh-am [Chorus] You did wrong You only created havoc and corruption be gheyr-e fetneh va fesad nadashti You who always took pride in yourself to ke be khod hamisheh zuri kardi You were blind to justice haqq mididi cheshmat-o kur mikardi You took the wrong path az rah-e birah-e 'obur mikardi You buried your daughters alive dokhtarat-o zendeh begur mikardi You consulted your friends ba rofaqat neshasti showra kardi You were full of greed baraye loqmeh dahan va kardi You bled the hearts of 'Ali and Zahra khun be del-e 'Ali-o Zahra kardi All the havoc you created ke che fetneha"i to be pa nakardi Did you say I am the Caliph? gofti ke man khalifeh-am [Chorus] You did wrong 201 Two other titles for such compositions that I noted were ‘Dirges for 'Omar’ (rowzeh-ye-'Omar) and ‘Curses for 'Omar’ (hajviyat baray-e 'Omar).

Returning this time with a cushion tied to her bottom under her long red underpants. At various intervals. a scatological pun. holding a water pitcher (aftabeh) commonly used for ablutions in the lavatory. in which the first syllable of the Arabic pronoun 'alay-ka (to you) is replaced by a similar sounding Persian word for body waste. during which she lists various countries (the US. It contains women’s familiar grievances and she pretends to sob as she sings. The girl then continues in the same preaching manner to sermonize in a hilarious fashion. pretending to be having difficulty defecating. Nigeria). while repeating that it was in honour of 'Omar. the young lead singer assumes the role of a preacher. produces a replica of excrement made from dried mud and.coloured veil. About halfway through the ritual. clowning and dancing around to everyone’s delight. the shelf being here a simple metaphor for a woman’s large posterior: . then suddenly gets up. Because at the time these were targets of contempt in the televised Friday sermons held in the University grounds. just like a shelf ” (baleh baleh takhcheh dareh). Mrs Sima jumps into the middle of the room. everyone joins in with gusto with the refrain. she begins to sing a song in rhymed couplets called “Yes. her references to them immediately suggests a critique of the politicization of sermons. supposedly sung by 'Omar’s mother as a nursery rhyme. but uses many insulting words. she takes it around for all to inspect while some call out that it should be placed on his grave. she begins as though reciting a standard Arabic greeting formula “as-salam-o-'alay-ka” (I greet you) that precedes prayers to saints. Another song is called a ‘Lullaby for 'Omar’. sung to a standard wedding tune (ey yar mobarak-bad ).202 chapter seven prayer dedicated to Fatemeh until the third day after 'Omar’s death. After each line. She jumps about while grimacing and contorting her face in a burlesque fashion. Adopting what she believes to be an exaggerated Arabicized preaching tone. supposedly congratulates 'Omar on his wedding. the UK. she runs in wearing a light. yes. Mrs Sima takes centre stage once more. “Yes. just like a shelf ”. Russia. After an interval with further 'Omar songs by the young lead singer. A riotous laughter accompanies this performance throughout. At one stage. She then squats down. One song. yes. Her rendering becomes “as-sam-o-an-ka”. Algeria.

and that this would be displayed and made fun of in gross ways while dancing. baleh. 'Omar’s caricature would be painted on bare stomachs. the votive . The irony of this does not escape Minu. In the following. each time giving rise to more roars of laughter. Mrs Sima targets one of the women. baleh. and accompanied by rhythmic handclapping and refrains of ritual greetings (salavat). Early in the evening towards the end of the ritual. The act is repeated several times. More 'Omar songs follow. takhcheh dareh be man migeh takhcheh kardeh baleh. baleh. we are served with a thick noodle and bean soup (ash-e reshteh).reversal and licence My husband has turned his back to me [Chorus] Yes. some women begin to dance but. yes. the refrains are repeated twice after each verse sung by the lead: Fatemeh you are God’s flower You are the basil of Mostafa’s garden God has given to Ahmar A bouquet of Mohammadan flowers [Refrain] Greetings to Mohammad [Refrain] Greetings to Mohammad Ya Fatemeh to gol-e khoda-i Reyhaneh-ye bagh-e Mostafa"i Dadeh khoda be ahmar Dasteh gol-e Mohammad Sall-e 'ala Mohammad Salavat bar Mohammad In between. baleh. takhcheh dareh mano digeh tark kardeh baleh. just like a shelf He has now left me [Chorus] Yes. takhcheh dareh harf zadano ba man tark kardeh baleh. they are criticized by one of the guests reminding them that dancing is sinful. She adds that she was sorry that it is no longer permitted to burn 'Omar’s effigy outdoors. yes. just like a shelf 203 showharam poshtesho be man kardeh baleh. takhcheh dareh With each refrain. baleh. who whispers that there would be much dancing after those against it had left. just like a shelf He says I’ve developed a shelf [Chorus] Yes. this time alternating with standard poems of praise for Fatemeh and 'Ali. just like a shelf He has stopped speaking to me [Chorus] Yes. yes. yes. surprisingly. Minu tells me that in the past. just like a shelf He has cut back my house-money [Chorus] Yes. burying her head in their lap with a shriek of protest. yes. takhcheh dareh pule khunamo kam kardeh baleh. the lead repeatedly prompts everyone to get up and dance in the rhymed verse: This is the month of Rabi I Whoever doesn’t dance is lazy mah-e Rabi-ol-Avval-e har ke naraqseh tanbaleh Finally.

collecting them to take home. but is contradicted by another woman. which the participants considered to be imbued with barakat. Mrs Omid’s daughter knew of a tale. who told her that celebrating 'Omar’s death would make her happy. 27 Rabi-I AHQ 1414/14 September 1993 This 'Omar ritual was a much smaller gathering. rubbing off the makeup and donning my headscarf and veil. For example. which she believed to be true. Minu told me later that she had dreamed of a woman surrounded by a bright light (meaning Fatemeh). saying goodbye with expressions of condolences in mock sadness. During the songs.” and surprisingly encourages me to write down all that I had heard and seen. someone scattered sugar balls (noql ) over everyone’s head. says that her children have learned at school that 'Omar was a wise man who had fought many battles for Islam. expressing mixed feelings as to whether one should go to such extremes of behaviour. The woman next to me urges me to make a vow at this propitious ritual. who was about to be tortured and permanently muted by having her mouth burnt with a brazier and iron tongs by a Sunni couple. When I asked if they are not afraid of the authorities. “We only do this so that our children don’t forget. she says defiantly. About fifty women were present (roughly half as many as the one before). As I prepare to leave. which continued almost non-stop for about an hour. despite having participated in the ritual. One woman. After some more songs. “They can’t cope with women!” A brief exchange follows between a few women. one of the women told her son. After the mowludi songs. to recite some . The lead sang mowldui poems in praise of Fatemeh. the lead singer concludes with supplications to God and Fatemeh for the granting of everyone’s favours and we all respond with a resounding 'Amen’ (Elahi ). one of the guests says to me. Other women justify 'Omar rituals with accounts of their dreams or hearsay stories. It was about the miraculous appearance of the Mahdi at a crucial moment to rescue a renowned performer of 'Omar songs. accompanied by everyone’s handclapping. This time the ritual began as though it was a standard mowludi.204 chapter seven dish prepared by the hostess. Mrs Sima joins us. who says that some Sunnis even fasted on that day. a boy of about seven. claiming that Sunnis make merry on the day of Husseyn’s martyrdom. Another justifies the insults.

much larger than life. the 'Omar songs began with gusto.reversal and licence 205 verses of the Qur"an for everyone. Then. as with the next ritual described below. where it was left for the remainder of the ritual for all to see. including many teenagers. The hostess appeared with a stuffed male doll. pinching and kicking the effigy to the delight and encouragement of everyone else. many of whom crowd into the small courtyard that leads to the basement due to the lack of space. A woman seated next to me reminds me that the popcorn on the string is called ‘'Omar’s necklace’. blinking lights and popcorn strung on a long string hung on the walls. slapping. The songs that were sung were similar to those already described. Failing to hold the attention . It had a moustache. and was dressed in a contemporary suit with a tie. More songs and hand clapping continued. they all helped to hang the doll with the rope around its neck on the wall at the head of the room. all of a sudden. who shouted obscenities at it. followed by the long Qur"anic chapter khatm-e "an'am (S: 6). joining the hostess in vehemently punching. The ritual begins formally in the name of God with recitations from the prayer book (Mafatih-al-Janan). 11 Rabi-I AHQ 1414/29 August 1993 Unlike the other two rituals described. The venue attracts a large attendance of at least 200 women. there are displays of colourful paper cuttings. This fusion of the serious and the grotesque in the ritual was particularly pronounced. which is particularly popular because of the many names of God mentioned therein. children and a few small boys. It is recited first by the niece of the hostess who then takes over and continues with explanations of some religious precepts. giving rise to much laughter. for which he was praised with loud applause. Instead of calligraphy and the various religious emblems that cover the walls of such centres. In the end. The boy stood shyly at the top end of the room and recited the verses by rote in a melodic style. continuing non-stop until a second surprise. this one is open house and held in the large basement of a private house owned by a professional Qur"an reciter who has converted the basement into a Hosseyniyeh centre for Qur"an classes and rituals. but this time mowludi songs in praise of 'Ali and Fatemeh alternated with 'Omar songs. A few other women stood up spontaneously. She pulled it into the centre of the room with a thick rope tied around its neck.

About half way through her songs. Seated next to me is a woman who says that her son had attended an 'Omar ritual sponsored by one of the local men’s religious associations (hey"at) during which. The main body of 'Omar songs begin shortly after. gesturing and bending right over. She is dressed in frivolous red clothes with metal discs jingling from a mini-skirt. The response is a resounding chorus of salavat and. She concludes with the mock reproof that the Muharram rituals held at the centre had not attracted such a crowd. satin trousers. distributing coins to everyone’. are obliged to hand him money for his performance. These. competing with the men’s performance. wriggling their bottoms towards the crowd. speeds through the rest of the recitation and the precepts.206 chapter seven of the restless crowd. contesting women’s lack of free expression by implication. The woman with the blackened face resembles a male troubadour jester (hajji-Firuz). dancing and singing songs of mock deference to the passers-by. whom he addresses in his songs as his masters (arbab). baggy. clowning. ‘a mullah had started to dance and make merry. Others stand up. accompanied by rhythmic hand clapping. in turn. He appears traditionally for the New Year (nowruz) on the streets in the role of a servant ( gholam). an old woman with a blackened face gets up from the middle of the crowd and starts to clown. which she wears over a pair of bright red. and that this clearly showed the women’s preference for ribaldry to mourning. almost immediately. laughter and merrymaking from all present. she stops to make an announcement. she points toward her genitals and says: “We can’t very well talk of ours. She then gives way. Throwing her head back with a gust of laughter. She says that she heard of similar 'Omar songs being sung by men during a ritual held nearby and mockingly accuses them of being so rowdy. She wished to justify her own actions and those of the others present. she reminds them that they should keep quiet while God’s name is spoken but she is unsuccessful. by pointing out that the clergymen themselves do not all follow the official line. that passers-by had heard their vulgar language and talk of their penis. One woman from among the guests acts as a lead. so let’s speak of our farts instead!” A roar of laughter follows and everyone repeats noisily joyful what she has asked them to do. . dancing and singing bawdy 'Omar songs.

11 She begins her narration with a moralistic prelude. the sponsoring hostess has decided to hold this ritual during the month when the 'Omar rituals are held and also serves popcorn. Volunteers from among the guests act the play. red for the bride and green for Zahra and the angels. Red. The plot centres on the mocking of an ostentatious wedding held by the elite members of the powerful. Beyza"i (1966). and for colour symbolism in the Qur"an. 1414 AHQ/2 September 1993 207 Strictly speaking. see Schimmel (1990). green is the colour of the Prophet. 11 For the uses of colour in ta'ziyeh see Anassori (1987: 235). They are guided step-by-step through the story by the young cantor who specialises in this play and has been engaged for the occasion. According to Anassori. . but only two seyyed are found among the children present. The cantor has brought the necessary costumes with her. Ideally. she was offended and refused. saying curtly that religious plays should not be used for research purposes. 9 Qureysh was a powerful clan in Mecca and the Prophet Muhammad belonged to one of its branches. cf. she entertains her guests with a mimed performance of an officially approved passion play (shabih) called “The Bride of Qureysh”. the play dates from the Qajar era (1796–1925) (1987: 123–128). in which she contrasts the ostentatious display of the Meccan clan with Fatemeh’s simplicity. When I phoned the leader of one of them to ask permission to attend one of their performances for my fieldwork. a young woman is chosen for the role of Fatemeh (Zahra) and six children play angels. this one is not an 'Omar ritual as there are no 'Omar songs or mention of him throughout. white is associated with goodness and nobility. Red is associated with Shi'i enemies. Nonetheless. who at the end of the story convert to Islam when shamed by Fatemeh’s simplicity and majesty as she arrives at the wedding scene. Instead of 'Omar songs.reversal and licence A Mock Wedding 14 Rabi-I. these roles should be played by seyyed. 10 I heard of three well-known professional groups who specialize in the performance and demand high fees. without any prior rehearsal. which is characteristic of 'Omar rituals. black with misfortune and mourning.9 This is a moral story based on a popular Hadith.10 An old woman volunteers to be the bride. echoing the calls for modesty and sobriety at official levels. The following is a shortened. idol-worshipping Meccan clan called Qureysh. black. green and white have particular associations.

they have not invited me for my joy. You know I have no clothes. but Zahra was sad.208 chapter seven though relatively close rendering of the notes I made as the play proceeded.e. Nowadays women are ashamed to wear the same clothes twice to a reception. ‘Dear father. we are all your friends” (Fatemeh-jan gham makhor. which I was given permission to make. The Prophet asked. Following this. “My daughter will go as you command. she produces a coarse piece of rope with which she pretends to remove the bride’s facial hair. Dressed in red. They have forgotten the love of God and their faith. the bride of Qureysh enters and the guests scatter popcorn (instead of noql) over her head. . [The narrator proceeds with details of the materials and the garments].12 The 12 String was traditionally used for removing hair from the face and the body and used to be prevalent before the wedding night. and even if they are not all like that. She then uses a piece of charcoal to line her eyes and eyebrows. God) had commanded that she should attend. Then the dramatic performances begin. The Prophet consulted God. salavat choruses and refrains of. The singing ends with ululation (helheleh) and further rounds of salavat ‘for the joy of Zahra’. many are. She had given away her own wedding dress because someone else needed it. You know how much Arab women like personal adornments and jewellery. as well as the transcripts of the tape recordings. don’t be sad. an act that gives rise to much mirth and laughter. but would you be pleased that they mock her?” Then. angels appeared from heaven. tea and popcorn: The bride was the daughter of the head of the Qureysh clan. They invited Zahra to their wedding. The Prophet told her that His ‘Beloved’ (Habib. Would you want them to mock the Prophet’s own daughter?” [The narrator explains] Zahra was not sad for lack of clothes. altogether producing a grotesque clown-like face. She hands the bride a plastic shoe to use instead of a mirror and proceeds to smudge red lipstick around her lips. Arab women pay less attention to their homes. “Dear Fatemeh. accompanied by the guests with hand-clapping. clothing Zahra in the most magnificent garments and veils. The guests listen intently while helping themselves to refreshments of fruit. who were distant relatives of Hazrat-e Zahra. An Arab bride changes clothes seven times on the wedding night. The cantor then sings mowludi songs. but with a powder rather than string. the hostess begins to groom the bride. why are you sad?’ She replied. i. In a burlesque performance played out at great length. Men also removed body hair. ‘Dear Zahra. sweet pastries. ma ham-e yar-e to"im). They know that I am not like them.

cover their head with the green veil. She continues: “The Qureysh bride fell down fainting. in their joy. The hostess is pleased with the performance and prompts everyone for loud rounds of salavat for the fulfilment of their vows and for the cantor. The cantor reminds everyone that. She then invites us to sit on the chair occupied by Fatemeh during the play. Six young angels dressed in green and carrying lighted candles follow her. where it was .” The actors follow suit and the story ends. “Dear Fatemeh. As with the 'Omar ritual. Everyone applauds and some of the women are moved to tears. A round of salavat follows. so the cantor repeats the cue and the bride falls down with a shriek. The cantor reminds them that they are merely actors and maidservants (kaniz) of Zahra and that it was forbidden (haram) to impersonate the saints. I had seen this play once before early on that year at a statefunded cultural centre for women in south Tehran. Fruit. until someone said that they should pull her out of the room. struck by the unexpected arrival and splendour of Fatemeh. hand-clapping and refrains of. The cantor then continues with her narration and the actors follows suit: “When Hazrat-e Zahra entered the wedding ceremony. She also asks them to applaud with rounds of salavat rather than clapping.reversal and licence 209 bride prances around in an unseemly fashion. followed by more mowludi songs. The cantor continues: “According to the Hadith. the person playing the role of Zahra sits on the bridal chair in the middle of the room and is surrounded by the angels. we are all your friends”. they forgot about the bride. trampling her under their feet. inviting spontaneous exegeses as a critique of female vanity put to shame by Fatemeh’s majesty. the guests should not forget the unfortunate. the ill and prisoners of war. sweet pastry and tea are served again until people begin to leave. cover our heads with the green veil worn by the actor and make a vow to donate some money to buy a wedding dress for a poor bride. Meanwhile. while repeating that this is all for the joy of Zahra.” Zahra enters with a thin veil covering her face. make a vow in silence and then put some money into a bag provided by the cantor. don’t be sad. the performance of this play is particularly popular for making vows to Fatemeh and many of the women take it in turns to sit on the chair.” The actor forgets to fall down. she dazzled all those present with her majesty and splendour. all the wedding guests converted to Islam and as they jostled to kiss Hazrat-e Zahra’s hands and face.

seemingly against the established order. 'Ali was represented by a large painting of a red rose. Greenblatt (1982). The moral messages of simplicity and modesty conveyed by the exhibition and the play are clear. . But.14 The majority of studies are functionalist. Cohen (1982). pans and a few items of plain clothing. 1964). Leach (1977a. Ritual here operates as a means for social control. to which visitors had tied many votive ribbons. Bakhtin (1968). consisting of various objects like pots.13 It was combined with a small exhibition called “The House of Fatemeh and 'Ali”. Gluckman (1963). The Ambiguity of Inversions ‘Reversal rituals’ have always presented a puzzle in terms of analysis and there is now a substantial literature about them. A simple dowry represented Fatemeh. it would be too simple to see the play as an instrument of social control. Her political affiliation was also suggested by a large portrait of Khomeini in an elaborate gold frame displayed on the wall. The hostess had compromised for political reasons. including a veil. Gluckman views such rituals as a form of authorized protest. with Max Gluckman’s study of ‘Rituals of Rebellion’ in South East Africa (1963) being the most influential. choosing to celebrate 'Omar’s death with this play rather than with 'Omar songs. For a comprehensive reformulation of Bakhtin’s (1968) work. revolving typically on social/political cause and effect. the story of idol worshippers conveniently replaces 'Omar as an object of denigration. despite its moralistic tones. see Stallybrass & White (1986). but the themes of a mock wedding and satirical grooming of the bride on the night of consummation are themselves subversive. Traditionally the play was performed at weddings and following childbirth. 14 Among the now classic studies are. yet aiming to reinstate it. In addition. It ultimately serves the interests of those it apparently opposes by allowing cathartic licence (excess) to 13 I thank Jaber Anassori for bringing the play at this Cultural Centre to my attention. curtained platform on a weekly basis for several weeks following Fatemeh’s birthday. The ‘house’ consisted of a simple room constructed with a door and a window.210 chapter seven staged for the first time on a raised.

16 ‘Joking relationship’ according to Radcliffe-Browne (1952) can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical and the ‘joking’ itself can vary in degree. Lévi-Strauss (1963) argued that societies are ordered in homologous systems of contrast and similarity such as high: low/male: female and that tensions or contradictions in the classification system are resolved through myth. However. whose relations consisted of simultaneous structural attachment (by marriage) and separation (by descent). Lincoln (1989: 165–66). which the performances invert. which are forms of ‘permitted disrespect’ in given contexts. from teasing to obscenity. These are said to have a stabilizing effect when there is tension between various categories of ‘joking partners’. so. dreams and jokes. but they are also bound by the social and cultural system of classification. 1990) ‘weapons of weak’. particularly during times of rapid change. The term was employed by Bakhtin to describe a world outside and in opposition to the official. remaining a potential threat. conversely. On the contrary. or they could be based on gender or class. In his own study. Moreover. such as Scott’s (1985. they would never endorse the idea that they were ‘subverting’ the values and norms of conduct to which they normally adhere. 16 Cf. disciplinary social order.reversal and licence 211 ensure renewed obedience to the authorities. so that ‘joking’ was a means of releasing potential tension and hostility. attempts to curb the 'Omar ritual by the authorities suggest that they regard it as being far too threatening to be domesticated or tamed into having a stabilizing effect. An alternative approach could be to see reversal rituals in terms of theories of ‘resistance’. not only are the 'Omar performances restricted to the ritual context. overt rebellion or subversion of the official order. or in terms of Bakhtin’s (1968) “carnivalesque”. the ‘joking partners’ were affines. Apter (1983) and Drucker-Brown (1982) suggest the possibility of viewing reversals rituals in the light of Radcliffe-Browne’s (1952) theory of ‘joking relationships’. anomalies can deconstruct the order. In a similar vein. 15 . such tensions would be based on the relations between Sunni and Shi'i. But the question remains as to why the authorities would wish to curb the ritual if it is supposed to resolve tensions. and as a counter-hegemonic. the popular assumption that carnival-like rituals are entirely free and chaotic is incorrect ( Jankowiak 1999). But apart from the fact that the women do not see themselves as ‘weak’. Just as the classification structure constructs social and political order.15 In the case of the 'Omar rituals.

especially the ‘high’ and ‘low’. folkloric approach to the ‘carnivalesque’. on the one hand. because of the merging of binary elements. however.17 The process involves. What needs to be stressed here. the reversals also have subversive potentials. nor necessarily call it into question. Inversions might well undermine the power of the supposed norm by virtue of its exposure. carnival becomes “a generalized economy of transgression and of recoding of the ‘high’ and ‘low’ relations across the whole social structure” (Stallybrass & White’s 1986: 19). On the other hand. 1964). hence apparently reinforcing the established order. or ‘doing’. symbolic inversions of commonly held values and norms. Performance is more than simply critical reflection. Embodied perception extends beyond the ritual context so that the reversals may not be limited to the confinement of the ritual. therefore seemingly logically related to the cultural classifications and codes (Leach 1977a. Cohen’s (1982) study of the Notting Hill carnival also emphasises the structural contradictions of carnival. because they saw laughter as important for overcoming fear and revealing truth. Douglas demonstrates the need to understand the human body as the prime 17 Bakhtin’s (1968) work on Rabelais helped toward an understanding of the contradictions and ambiguities of the ‘carnivalesque’. is performance. Introduction for a discussion of the fruitful move away from an ‘informative’ to a ‘performative’ approach to ritual. They suggest that the most fruitful approach to reversals is a combination of both processes. This ‘hybridization’ of binary opposites unsettles the very terms usually perceived as binary and incompatible. but this alone would not guarantee its subversion. which actively sanctioned carnivals. It deals with the pre-Puritan Church.18 To mediate subversive ideas through concrete performances become an embodied perception ( Jackson 1983). the mockery of priests included. 18 See.212 chapter seven Stallybrass and White (1986) go beyond seeing such rituals in terms of mutually exclusive processes—either politically conservative or progressive. . In a political reformulation of what they call Bakhtin’s (1968) celebratory. Exclusion and Differentiation: The Paradoxical Power of Filth and Demonization To understand taboos such as those concerning body waste.

dangerous and to be scorned. tears. 1991). one forming a burlesque counterpart of the other. He married their daughter Umm-e Kolsum and his own daughter Hafse was married to the Prophet (reported on the feminist. the negations of 'Omar by the ritual participants are not so much about 'Omar. Not only is he a Muslim like oneself (those who perform the ritual). they need to set up an internal contrast of sorts (in the same way as women or men define themselves by setting up the opposite sex as an implied contrast). thus more threatening to the identity of the minority Shi'i. ‘matter out of place’. The 'Omar rituals also follow on from the Muharram passion plays (ta'ziyeh). How does all this relate to 'Omar? He is. 20 'Omar was also closely related to Fatemeh and 'Ali. . while Omar is scorned. Aversion serves to affirm the self and to reinforce one’s own sense of respectability. spittle. The structural parallels between them are striking. but he is also a conduit for barakat and wish 19 Douglas states that the power of body symbolism is based on anxiety about the boundaries of the body. but about self-representations. These symbolic opposites come to stand for self and other in a process of self-definition. or the Sunni. self-affirming tactic of identity politics. as Douglas would say. hence powerful. The demonization of difference is a protective. its orifices and matters issuing from them (blood. One represents the ideal moral order. or a concern with transgressions or contradictions within the classification system of the society (Douglas 1966: 123–25). Beeman 1981. such as the protection of the political and cultural unity of a minority group.reversal and licence 213 symbol of social classification (1966: 122–5). 21 Cf.21 Husseyn is venerated. The attribution to 'Omar of all that is base is a construct in antithesis to the self. What they mock they also relish and celebrate. The main paradox at the heart of demonization is the ambiguous relationship between negation and desire (Greenblatt 1982: 4). but with social and personal identity. unlike the self (the ritual performers). it may be expressed as an anxiety about external boundaries. milk. excrement). a structural anomaly.20 Yet. online journal Bad Jens 2000). The celebrants not only despise 'Omar. which is symbolically related to a perceived vulnerability of the boundaries of the self and one’s social group. Hammoudi (1993) who links Moroccan sacrifice and ritual licence among Berber men in the Moroccan masquerade. but he is also a close relative of the Prophet.19 The concern with ‘filth’ has therefore nothing to do with filth itself. 'Omar is not only an agent of impurity. In ritual. In other words. but also delight in him. he is a Sunni. For this. the other questions that order (cf.

but also of renewal and change. This suggests that the 'Omar ritual should be seen not as conservative. literally ‘elephant’s fart’) alludes to defecation and breaking wind. This ambivalence is carried over to poems of praise for saints. Noql are associated with weddings where they are scattered over the bride and groom. which is normally destructive. The symbolism of food is particularly striking in the context of this ritual. It is also playfully likened to 'Omar’s necklace strung on the wall of the Hosseyniyeh. Popcorn. R. it is as though eschatology is warded off with scatology (1982: 4). popcorn alludes to a wedding. Werbner (2001: 139. which is being mocked. The fusion of the licit with the illicit is particularly subversive because distinctions become blurred. like confetti. They eagerly eat the votive dishes served at 'Omar rituals which they consider to be imbued with barakat. a staple food at the 'Omar rituals.24 This ambiva- 22 Cf. dirt. In other words. popcorn is served as a substitute for noql. but is also becomes body waste. 24 Cf. As Douglas observes. resembling popcorn in shape.214 chapter seven fulfilment. what matters in this ritual seems to be the here and now rather than a promise of reward in a world beyond. which are small sugar balls with almond inside. sometimes becomes creative because it transgresses the established classification order (1966: 160). but rather as transformative. Food is fun and pleasurable. which is a medium for prayers. In the context of the 'Omar ritual.23 Just as renewal is linked with death. As Greenblatt comments elsewhere. and where ritual greetings normally used to address saints become Arabicized puns. 23 Beeman considers the 'Omar ritual as a ‘rite of renewal’ (1991). Filth is here not only a sign of destruction. size. body waste is a sign of both plenty and degradation. 141) who refers to an earlier article (Wernber 1981: 61) for a similar comment on allusions to fertility in the Moroccan masquerade as a conduit for barakat. although popcorn is salty rather than sweet. 'Omar’s symbolic death paves the way for a symbolic renewal. In the 'Omar rituals.22 The celebrants constantly reiterate the potency of the ritual to bring about desirable ends. illustrates the ambiguous relation between aversion and desire. which alternates with scatological songs. it not only nourishes the body and the spirit as a medium for barakat. texture and colour. Greenblatt (1982: 7). The Persian word for popcorn (chos-e fil. confirming established codes. . but also to a rosary. Important categories are confused.

The limits of the acceptable are stretched. when gender ideas and relations are being challenged and redefined. Bakhtin’s (1968) central notion of the ‘grotesque body’ in the ‘carnivalesque’ reverses the limits and constraints placed on it. I call the women’s sense of fun. It seems that in the 'Omar rituals. What Bakhtin (1968) calls the ‘carnivalesque’. In practice. older women dance and frolic. such as the erudite with the bawdy and realism with fantasy. Against the background of the constant displacement of identity in the crusades of forced veiling and unveiling under the banner of ‘tradition’ or ‘modernity’. In the context of the rituals of this book. the desire for selfdefinition is not surprising. at mingling of the ‘high’ and ‘low’. becoming unbounded sexuality. but it is of course also indispensable to human reproduction. body and flesh or nafs must necessarily triumph over spirit and mind or 'aql in the service of social continuity. they are never rigid. open orifices that defecate or break wind and so on. their love of the lewd. The body is subjected to scrutiny. He shows how everything in carnival plays on bodily excess. It is understandable that attempts to control society often focus on the body or its parts. rude and popular. the relations of ‘high’ and ‘low’ are based on the complementary pair of mind/body or 'aql/nafs. food is associated with what the body discards and scatological invectives rather than sermons or praise permeate the performances. thereby also mocking and rendering obscene the hierarchies inscribed on the social body. impudence replaces a reserved attitude. Taking us back to the body as the ultimate locus of social classification itself. which is another prominent theme in the 'Omar rituals. their glee at dirty jokes. Mixing the High and Low The inversions in the 'Omar ritual depend on regulating the relations of what Claude Lévi-Strauss (1963) calls the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ across the whole social structure. The women delight in their competitive claim to ‘outdo’ men in abusive .reversal and licence 215 lence applies equally to sexuality. bringing down the high to the lowest bodily realms. particularly in times of rapid change. probity and constraint. Classification categories are ideals. regulation and disciplinary attention in numerous ways. Seemingly abandoning all ideals and conventions of modesty. Female sexuality is constructed as dangerous.

The bottom is presented as being antiseductive in its grossly enlarged state. The act of exaggeration (of the body shape) reveals the imaginary status of the supposedly ‘natural’ (body) (cf. notwithstanding counter discourses in Islamic jurisprudence.26 The many interpretations of the Qur"anic story of Yusuf and Zuleikha show the difficulty 25 On the decoupling of female sexual pleasure from reproduction in some Western discourses. The hostess achieves the effect of an enlarged posterior with a stuffed cushion under her dress. Thus. making a mockery of the site of the fertile womb and thus also of motherhood as the central marker of female identity. The ‘grotesque’ lower body (or nafs) is of course a powerful critique of the deceptive language of reason (or 'aql ). The ‘grotesque’ not only counters the repressive discourse of ‘high’ and ‘low’. . but also to complete sexual fulfilment. Fox Keller and Shuttleworth (1990). both of which effectively forbids female sexual pleasure on women’s own terms. to the taboo of sexual practice divorced from reproduction. the basic purpose being pleasure without progeny (1983: 36–37). in effect. Butler 1990: 146–47). and the parodic nursery rhyme called 'Omar’s Lullabye’. see Jacobus (1990) and Jacobus. is literally ‘marriage for pleasure’. A similar exegesis is suggested by the farcical grooming of the bride on the nuptial bed on the night of consummation. It refers. Similarly. but that they simply display a desire not to be contained by their reproductive or nurturing function. the women are celebrating the female body as sexual. 'Omar’s caricaturized portrait is painted on a bare belly. by implication. but also encourages recognition of the interchangeability of the categories of ‘high’ and ‘low’ (Stallybrass & White 1986: 43–44. 53–59).216 chapter seven verse and in vibrant and flamboyant celebrations of the lower body. Mussalam also notes that mut"a union. which generally allowed contraception provided the woman gave her consent. 26 Mussalam (1983: 28) shows that women’s right to complete sexual fulfilment is recognized and stipulated in Islamic jurisprudence. not merely reproductive. not only because she had the right to children.25 It is a powerful critique of the construct of woman as either mother or temptress. The performance of the ‘shelf-like bottom’ is an excellent example of how the ‘grotesque’ carries a multiple critique of the supposed norm associated here with the slender body of ‘respectable’ middle class women. so-called temporary marriage. which coitus interruptus was judged to diminish. This is not to say that the women devalue reproduction or nurture. She draws further attention to her posterior by repeating in mockingly sad tones that her husband no longer desires her.

In a similar song called “Uncle Green Grocer” ('amu sabzi forush). but satiric performances concerning female sexuality are particularly popular in women’s social gatherings. but the focus of The celebrated female poet Forugh Farrokhzad. even among other intellectuals of her time (Najmabadi 1991: 66). and not the object desired by men. popular). One called “Who is Knocking at the Door” (kiyeh kiyeh dar mizaneh) is about a mother who encourages her daughter to respond flirtatiously to local traders who come knocking on their door one after another bringing their wares with them. as the following examples demonstrate. All these songs subvert the normatized structure of desire.29 A central feature of these performances is the transgression of taboos that govern the relations between women and unrelated men (namahram). Casting themselves as sexual with dramatic comic expertise. became a social outcast. 28 Many of these songs are recorded by the folklorist Anjavi Shirazi (1973). 29 See Azar Nafisi’s vivid description of such a dance (2004: 265–266). they use their sexuality as a resource to control and manipulate male desire. formerly particularly at weddings and following birth. in particular the one called “Easy Aunt”. One song called “My Body has Ants” (murcheh dareh). Women are the subjects who desire.e. unabashed at being pregnant outside wedlock. some of which are analysed by Safah-Isfahani (1980). women mock the morality that refuses to acknowledge female desire. and see Chapter 1: pp. a housewife flirts shamelessly with her local green grocer with whom she has fallen in love.28 Persian dance can be particularly coquettish (ba naz) teasing (ba eshveh) and flirtatious (ba kereshmeh). 60–61). which women sing as they seductively dance and act (sometimes with costumes) in single-sex social gatherings. Men also cross-dress as women and perform some of these songs.reversal and licence 217 experienced by Muslim scholars in accounting for female desire in any other terms than as shame or guile (see Merguerian & Najmabadi 1997. Particularly striking is the high degree of frankness about female desire freed from its reproductive destiny. 27 . is designed for performing a ‘sexy striptease’.27 There are many popular comic songs called generically ‘of the streets and bazaars’ (kucheh bazari i. In these performances. who publicly celebrated her sexuality in her poetry. seductively suggesting a body that itches with sexual desire. Most of them are quite explicit. Sexuality is perhaps the most taboo subject. The song called “Easy Aunt” (khaleh ro-ro) concerns a flirtatious woman.

the significance of performing the outrageous is that it is an incorporated disruption of ‘habitus’. wearing false beards and moustaches. These hierarchies are inscribed across a wide range of social contexts. it is to appropriate and contain the threat of demasculinization that occurs when women take charge of their own sexuality. 32 Jackson refers to Bourdieu (1977: 116) on the difference between ‘practical mimesis’ and verbal analogy or metaphor (1983: 343 Fn. in these mock seduction scenes that are played out during 'Eid-e 'Omar. a rival woman shows up to attract the man’s attention. The ritual goes far beyond the demonization of the historical figure 'Omar. Traditionally. that more is going on in these 'Omar rituals than a concern with Shi'i/Sunni or Persian/Arab identity. As with all performances. suits and ties.31 Cross-dressing is a popular form of entertainment in single-sex gatherings of either sex and is by no means confined to the 'Omar rituals. which Michael Jackson argues. and seduce him into dancing with her instead. Even if rules are not easily suspended outside the ritual context. and choose a woman to dance with. the newcomer has her way” (2000). In an 'Omar ritual reported elsewhere there are scenes of mock seduction of women by other women dressed as men. therefore. their habitus” (1983: 335–336). At one point. The popularity is partly due to the rigid differentiation of dress and other gender codes. incorporating experiences through performing. in particular codes of dress. they are none the less contested. The freedom to define one’s own gender focuses on reversing the gendered codes. if transgressive performances are restricted to the ritual context.218 chapter seven their concern is clearly different. It would seem. as in 'Omar’s popcorn necklace and the female who impersonates the male jester. feminist journal Bad Jens reports: “Some women dress up as men. 31 The online. but there seems to be no written records about this or similar performances in male social gatherings. The inversions address a host of contemporary internal social tensions and hierarchies defined as ‘high’ and ‘low’. including divisions 30 See Anjavi Shirazi (1973: 1) Cross-dressing and dancing by men impersonating women is a popular form of entertainment. . 37). “lays people open to possibilities of behaviour which they embody but ordinarily are not inclined to express [enabling them to] control and recreate their world.32 It matters less. thereby destabilizing the fixities of gender. Crossing the boundaries simultaneously recalls and displaces gender opposition. Destabilizing the fixities of gender further are the subtle forms of gender reversal and cross-dressing. then.30 When men imitate women.

the beating draws attention to an apparently natural order. which has become a symbol of middle class. associated with authority. The woman dressed as the New Year jester plays on the inequalities of class by acting the role of the servant who mocks his ‘masters’ in pretence deference. takes us to the heart of these social issues. whom she apparently mimics with a profusion of unintelligible Arabicized words. At times it seems that not all taboos and rules are suspended here. as when the women protesting say that they can’t name their genitals in the same way that men easily do when referring to the male . the ferocity with which the women beat and kick the puppet is not an expression of pent-up aggression and grievances against men or gender oppression. filth is permitted and most of all.reversal and licence 219 based on class and various forms of authority. This performance reveals a healthy disrespect for the elevated status and supremacy of the Arabic language. However. the puppet is dressed significantly in contemporary clothing with a tie. when genders are muddled. satiric parody of a sermon. they are also characterized by spontaneity and creativity. erudition or learning. the male and the masculine. Its beating suggests a parallel with the story of Fatemeh’s physical injury as 'Omar stormed her house. lends the performances an acknowledged potency that scripted rituals seldom have (Stallybrass & White 1986: 37). constantly pushing against the acceptable limits in a double play of both opposition and reaffirmation of the established order. The women are far from docile in daily life. She thereby taps into popular grievances against preachers. the transformative ‘potential’ of the 'Omar ritual is immense. This ambiguity. supposedly 'Omar. Mrs Sima relinquishes her claims to status as a hostess through horseplay. Underlying all these performances is an implicit criticism of rules of inclusion and exclusion that structure the social order based on the hierarchy of ‘high’ and ‘low’. Rather. However. wears a popcorn necklace. which are redefined by the interactive quality of the performances. clowning and serving low-prestige foods. and the pleasure it generates. It recalls in its inflated size the arrogant stance of the middle classes. So if the 'Omar rituals reveal continuity with the past. as when 'Omar. The heights of subversion are reached when leaders are scoffed at. Her daughter comically enacts the role of a preacher and delivers a hilarious. secular values in the Islamic Republic. The oversized male puppet. Even if it is not a case of actual transformation.

It allows the literate and the learned to define and redefine the terms of a discourse. which wish to prohibit the ‘lewd’ behaviour. 34 See. ‘seriousness’ and through knowledge that is ‘literate’ is a distinctive. Deborah Kapchan. It also stigmatizes and excludes the possibility of critique from below.220 chapter seven genital. the authorities make it clear that they consider unregulated ‘private’ space a breeding ground for subversion. These rituals are also about anxieties of a new Cf. the most innovative and spontaneous of the performances were the most memorable. the lower strata of society. These innovations may in turn become standard. This is perceived as a threat to the new puritanical moral order on which the religious regime grounds the legitimacy. It amounts also to a strategic attempt to monopolize authorship through a written appropriation of popular practice. who likens the Moroccan market to Bakhtin’s ‘carnivalesque’. Stallybrass & White (1986: 43 ff. But even if the social rules are not suspended entirely.) on a very clear exposition of this play with the categories of ‘high’ and ‘low’ in the context of the ‘carnivalesque’. but argues that metaphors of regeneration and the liberating potentials of the grotesque must be relativised in the Moroccan context of her study (1996: 36–37). Certainly. I often had the impression that the performances were improvised while in progress. powerful and biased discourse that divides people into ‘high’ and ‘low’. bringing renown to their creators. 201). cf Limón (1989). It might be argued that the exhilarating sense of freedom and loosening of restraint that transgression affords is a momentary freedom. which is constructed around the opposition of reason as masculine and body or nature as feminine.34 Far more is at stake than ‘lewd’ behaviour and simple conflict between people and the authorities of state. Their admonition to reflect on the Caliphs through rational and enlightened critique in ‘written’ form reflects partly the changing nature of religious discourse. they are vehemently contested. 33 . in their attempts to prohibit the ritual. Despite the many ‘standard’ comic features. They are aware that the ritual encourages pleasure for pleasure’s sake and the kind of unruly conduct and abandonment that they associate with loss of control (lack of 'aql) and ‘impiety’. not necessarily a political freedom that could pose a threat to those in power (Stallybrass & White 1986: 37. The idea that measured critique can only exist in the language of ‘reason’ ('aql ).33 But. The possibilities of free expression and creativity are immense.

the new conservative religious order has created the very conditions that are fertile for religious innovation. sanitized. In the context of widespread censorship and media control. I have resisted censoring the frank language used by the women in these performances. . which in their view are offensive in terms of good manners and civility. Both categories distance themselves from rituals. nor that some of the women themselves insisted that I make a record of the ritual (although others might disapprove). the attitude of the new ‘religious’ elite and the ‘secular’ modernist middle classes is strikingly alike. academic language would make me complicit in a system of domination. This process of denigrating those who are lower is a form of “displaced abjection” (Stallybrass & White 1986: 53). This intersection of the local and global is similar to. designating them as uncivilized and backward.reversal and licence 221 middle class that defines itself increasingly through a puritanical respectability. During the 'Omar rituals that I attended. It is not so much because the rituals were not secret. This kind of self-affirming respectability became one of the main causes for civil unrest that led to the revolution of 1978–79. In their civilizing offensive against the masses. religious middle class depends crucially on separation from popular activities to indicate that they have ‘arrived’. It would amount to the censorship of voices 35 As Greenblatt (1982) shows. Paradoxically. Selfexclusion from the popular and vulgar seems important for selfdefinition. The emerging identity of the new.35 However. The image here is of silent critics who maintain their distance and probity from the pleasures of the ‘lower classes’. I was painfully reminded of the judgemental. during the Shah’s era. To re-present the frank language in a ‘neutral’. middleclass gaze that had always ‘placed’ the ‘lower’ class (tabaqeh-ye pa"in) ‘downtowners’ ( pa"in shahr-i ). Ironically. ethnographic accounts of ‘reversal rituals’ are replete with distinctions between civility and vulgarity in claims based on culture or race. It was easily categorized as vulgar or ‘low’ and regarded as far too distanced from the ‘high’ upper classes to seem threatening. the 'Omar ritual was not actually banned. inevitably more as ‘observer’ than ‘participant’. these rituals remain an important source for creativity. they indicate that they are aware that their conduct is also under scrutiny by the West. but contrasts with the obsession with modernity characterized by acculturation during the Sha’s era.

that the 'Omar rituals are so eagerly anticipated and gleefully recalled.222 chapter seven raised in opposition and anger (at the risk of offending those who are in the business of censorship). with their talent for innovation and enterprise. . surprise and spontaneity. stand out in their efforts to protect their social agency by defying the ban on a sociologically significant ritual. which the socially ‘high’ has re-defined as ‘debauchery’. and the elements of anarchy. and with their healthy contempt for the elevated status of all that goes under the banner of the socially ‘high’. It is perhaps because of their high degree of subversion. I would suggest that these skilled women performers. The continued vitality of popular culture owes much to their enterprise.

the beginning of the Prophet’s mission on mab'as. These two months are considered particularly auspicious for weddings. There is a dramatic shift of mood in the third month of Rabi I. the women’s ritual activities take them through a variable experience with alternating moods. In addition. followed by a relatively quiet month in Shavval. but the evenings are lively. These are in turn interspersed with the individual life course events. The days are busy with prayers. The festive mood continues in Rajab and Sha'ban. In the months preceding Ramadan. the daily jalaseh continue. the ceremonial life regains momentum. for the birth of the Mahdi. The daily jalaseh rounds that continue throughout the year are interspersed with the events on the formal Shi'a lunar calendar (Table 1). with convivial fast-breaking meals among friends and relatives. In the last two months of Ziqa"deh and Zihajjeh. and then in Sha'ban. In the first two months of Muharram and Safar commemorations of Imam Husseyn’s death ('azadari ) predominate (Chapters 1 & 5). The busy ceremonial life continues on a daily basis during Ramadan. many other rituals are recommended as highly meritorious by the prayer . pace and momentum.CHAPTER EIGHT THE HEAD AND HEART TANGLE: RAMADAN The Annual Ritual Cycle During Ramadan. pilgrimage and for embarking on new projects like moving house. when mourning becomes ribaldry (Chapter 7). like initiation into puberty (Chapter 6). Throughout this time. giving way to joyful mowludi for her birth in Jamadi II (Chapter 2) until the end of the month. with yet further celebrations for the birth of Imam 'Ali. with further celebrations (mowludi) for the birth of the Prophet before the relatively calm month of Rabi II. funerals (Chapter 5) and life crises that call for rituals of intercession by saints (Chapters 3 & 4). The next two months of Jamadi I and II generate new momentum. recitations of the Qur"an and fasting from dawn to dusk. Commemorations of Fatemeh’s death (dahegi-ye Fatemiyeh) continue for about three weeks. the familiar order of events changes for Mrs Omid’s jalaseh circle.

This is a ‘month of rest’. By the time we finished just before dusk my legs felt numb with pain. It is intended to prepare worshippers so that they may be receptive to the barakat that is said to flow in abundance in the month of Ramadan. with hardly any room for us to move as we sat close together shoulder to shoulder on the carpeted floor. “May your acts of worship be accepted” ('ebadat-ha qabul. It is a demanding ritual performed two months ahead of Ramadan exactly in mid Rajab. in addition to the obligatory acts of worship such as the daily prayers. It is not among the obligatory rituals. It was particularly well attended. each of whom recited twenty or more verses from the Qur"an. Altogether seven sureh (Qur"anic chapter) . All of this is observed conscientiously by Mrs Omid’s circle of women. After Ramadan. A Ramadan Preliminary 15 Rajab 1413 AHQ/9 January 1993 This Ramadan preliminary is called “The Deeds of David’s Mother” (a'mal-e umm-e-Davud). they should have performed the major ritual ablutions (ghusl. Mrs Omid then nodded to various other women in succession. The peak of the annual ritual cycle is reached with the arrival of 'eyd-e fetr at the end of Ramadan. but it is highly recommended by the prayer book “Keys to Paradise” (Mafatih-al-Janan) as being particularly meritorious ( por savab). which is a particularly busy month.224 chapter eight book “Keys to Paradise” (Mafatih-al-Janan) to be performed individually or collectively. which gives her circle of women and herself time to rest from the intense ritual activities of the preceding months. When I arrived at about half past two in the afternoon. one of the women was in the middle of recitation of the lengthy al "an'am sureh (S: 6) from the Qur"an. Those attending the ceremony should ideally be fasting and before arrival. or ta'at-ha) is the common way of greeting during Ramadan among the women. as Mrs Omid puts it. The ritual that I attended was presided over by Mrs Omid and consisted of extensive recitations from the Qur"an and the prayer book Mafatihal-Janan. complete immersion of the body in water). Mrs Omid’s jalaseh circle stops their ceremonial activities for an entire month.

These were rendered fluently by heart. Mrs Omid did not stop to make any comments on the verses. 37. This verse requires an obligatory prostration ('ayeh-ye sejdeh). 36. I was told. though only after the others. 2 1 . Mrs Omid recited this supplication herself.1 She appointed the more competent women for the recitations. Soon after. A basket piled high with prayer-tablets (mohr) was passed around. People say that it is. she declared that we might have to continue the recitations at home and stop. in order to reach home in time so as not to miss the beginning of the namaz (avval-e namaz). 41 respectively.3 Mrs Omid intervened again to say that we need not worry if there were not enough prayer-tablets for everyone. they were permitted to prostrate. moving their lips as they did so. pleasingly intoned. 17. apart from reminding us of a particular verse ahead in the last sureh (S: 41). or simply a tissue. she said that we did not have to face Mecca for the prostration. It is considered particularly meritorious to perform the namaz as soon as they are due.2 For the same reason. is said to have restored the sight of David after his mother recited the verses. or represents. following with the index fingers on the lines.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 225 were recited without pause. However. since it was the intent (niyyat) that mattered. after which the ritual is named. Mrs Omid told us that anyone menstruating was forbidden to recite it. so that they had to go back and start again at the beginning of the verse as a precaution in case they had changed the meaning by breaking off in mid word. 3 A prayer tablet is a small flat piece of hard clay which Shi'ites use for the daily prayers. was generally not recited in public broadcasts in case people did not adhere to the obligatory prostration. One. pausing half way The sureh recited were S: 6. as there was not sufficient space for manoeuvre. 31. the religious rules (ahkam) allowed the use of the back of the hand. Sometimes the women ran out of breath in the middle of a word. explaining that in special circumstances. 18. Everyone was fully engaged in the recitations. but at great speed in order to complete all the sureh in the available time. Various supplications from the prayer book followed. I learned that four verses in the Qur"an required obligatory prostration which. It is placed on the floor and the worshipper places the forehead on it when prostrating. the Karbala earth on which Imam Husseyn’s blood was shed. called ‘The Deeds of David’s Mother’.

It was a favourite of Mrs Omid and she recited it herself in emotive tones. Based on the implicit assumption of the link between corporeality and spiritual inferiority. Another that followed included a ‘prostration verse’ and in conclusion. presented in religious terms of controlling desire and regulating the self to protect the soul from the ravages of sexuality in ‘traditional Christian culture’.4 Mrs Omid’s emphasis is less on the subjugation of the body than on the refinement of the spirit or ‘soul’ (tazkiyeh-ye ruh).226 chapter eight to pray for the sinful. rocking gently to and fro. the goal is to attain spiritual excellence. Eickelman who links 'aql (Arabic root ‘control’. smoking. more than at any other time. conveying thereby the primacy of 'aql over nafs. Subjugating the Body In Ramadan. ‘confinement’) to Ramadan (1998: 236). Mrs Omid asked God to forgive our sins. This idea is central to fasting (ruzeh). a religious intellectual. malicious intent. She stressed this at the beginning of almost all the jalaseh meetings she led. The main purpose of the fast is to discipline nafs (tahzib-e nafs). Islamic texts highly value the subjugation of the body and its passions (nafs). Cf. the goal of the fast as with all acts of worship is to gain proximity to God (qorbat va rabeteh ba khoda) by refining the spirit. the stress on body disciplines was marked in both her and other preachers’ formal teachings for Ramadan. There Abolkarim Sorush. during which she and several other women were moved to tears. lustful thoughts and sexual activity. One of the supplications called do'ay-e yastashir consists of long lyrical praise for God’s greatness and mercy. malicious gossip. See also. These go far beyond the abstention from food and drink from dawn to dusk with which Ramadan is usually associated. the second pillar of faith after the daily namaz. In her view. for example. used the phrase tahzib-e nafs in a talk delivered on 28 June 2002 at Westminster University in London. 4 . so that we could enter the month of Ramadan in a purified state. The notes I took from the discussions during the jalaseh in Ramadan include a series of obligatory abstentions from. swallowing saliva and particles left in between teeth. the ill and all those who had called out to her “begging prayer” (eltemas-e do'a) from her on her way to the ritual that afternoon. Bryan Turner (1996: 21–22) on ‘diet’ as a method of ‘governmental control of the body’. Nonetheless.

The women endeavour to adhere to as many recommended acts as they are able.5 For instance. for each fasting day lost deliberately. excessive laughter or weeping and overeating at the fast breaking meals (eftar). For example. Footnote 2 for details.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 227 is also a range of recommendations. While adherence to the prescribed recommended acts accumulates savab. and the local bakers donated so-called ‘salavat bread’ (nan-e salavati).6 Fasting ‘debts’ (ruzeh-ye qarzi) that accrue. although I did not hear anyone admit to paying such a penalty. are destined for beggars and the poor. The religious emphasis on giving. These include moderation and avoidance of all forms of indulgence. 6 5 . for example for See Chapter 1. The observance of ‘recommended’ acts builds up a good deal of religious merit (ajr or savab). which are written by leading Ayatollahs and according to Shi'i doctrine. See rule number 1660 in Khomeini’s book of precepts. failure to adhere to the obligatory rules results in heavy penalties. attendance increased. These rules are written in the book of precepts (ahkam). giving the women’s section in the mosque a festive ambience. An elaborate economy of spiritual credits and penalties help sustain this morality for body discipline. Among the deeds particularly recommended for Ramadan are generosity. believers are bound by the edicts of the religious leaders they choose to follow. Mrs Omid regards this practice as an innovation and generally criticised merit collecting activities when these were devoid of the required spiritual commitment. I often heard that the recitation of one verse of the Qur"an during Ramadan is equivalent in points of merit to the recitation of the entire Qur"an at any other time. and generosity during Ramadan culminates at the end of the fast on 'eyd-e fetr with the obligatory alms called fetriyeh. gaining merit from the ritual greetings (salavat) said in their honour. a person is punished either with two months of fasting or feeding sixty people. At such times. including ‘welcoming’ the month (pishvaz raftan) by beginning the fast a few days before Ramadan. Some women provided fast-breaking meals for the public in mosques. translated by Fischer and Abedi (1984). which according to the prayer book is ‘equivalent to freeing a slave’ in religious merit. which together with other charitable handouts like sadaqeh. charity and the sharing of fast-breaking meals with others. such as much sleep.

After an individual’s death. she told the following witty anecdote during the jalaseh she led on the second day of the fast to liven up the sleepy women who had been up before dawn for the fasting meal (sahari ): A Lur villager came to town and saw a lively festive atmosphere with displays of food everywhere. people often lost sight of the goal. paving the way for entry to Paradise or Hell. as are villagers. “What month is this?” They said. As with the other religious rules (ahkam). including some of the women in Mrs Omid’s circle. Jokes are difficult to translate. He asked. Mrs Omid did not dispute the rules as such. “What month is this?” They told him. This time the town was very quiet with hardly anyone around. ‘forbidden’ month)”. Notwithstanding Ramadan’s significance for Mrs Omid. but this one reveals an incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs. “It is Muharram. which commented on the paradoxical preoccupation with food and sleeping. as well as on social control.8 7 The Lur are an ethnic minority from the province of Lurestan in Western Iran and are popularly characterized as being naively frank. lit. but argued that because of the minute details. She would allay their anxieties by reminding them that the intent was more important than the act and that rules were merely a means to an end. Practices such as these reflect the popular story of angels on each shoulder keeping count of the deeds with points of reward or penalty.7 He asked.228 chapter eight not fasting due to ill health or menstruation. those regarding fasting give rise to anxieties and many questions during the jalaseh (see Chapter 1). 8 Buitelaar (1993: 183–87) makes a similar observation on the jokes and cartoons regarding fasting in Morocco. are sought after for such activities. the relatives may ‘buy’ outstanding fasting debts (ruzeh kharidan) by paying someone trustworthy to perform these by proxy. The Lur returned to his village and came back another time. must be redeemed (pas dadan) at another time. the month of mourning (Muharram al-haram. Characteristically. “This is the blessed month of Ramadan (mah-e mobarak)”. Seyyed. . It points to the paradox of the apparent preoccupation with food and feasting in a month of mourning (Muharram) and with sleep in the month of blessing (Ramadan). providing them some income as well as spiritual merit. people choose the shortest day to make up the missed days and because travellers are exempt from the fast. some women admitted to undertaking short trips in order to avoid accumulating fasting debts. He wondered why things were reversed in town.

However. which is involuntary. thereby paradoxically destabilising gender normally cast in fixed and dualistic terms. To conclude. who argues that far from negating the body. so that women face a difficult choice. collecting spiritual reward or ajr is predominantly a preoccupation of Moroccan women. because they are considered involuntary acts. who experience menstrual pollution as a failure and assume that their fasting is generally less valuable than that of men (Buitelaar 1993: 112–113. were willing participants. But this is interpreted idiosyncratically. remaining thereby within the prejudicial mind/body dichotomy. their performances are designed to educate the emotions and waken the senses as a channel for barakat or divine grace. reduce their subjectivity to the male element. Gatens shows that the intellectual discourses about female liberation. whose Ramadan practices I followed. Such a construct condemns women for physicality and spiritual inferiority. menstrual blood. inferiority and physical pollution would be misleading.11 They thereby construct a female subjectivity that 9 On ‘female spiritual inferiority’ see Imam 'Ali’s contentious statement (Chapter 1: Fn. 119). unknowingly reproducing the concepts they set out to challenge.9 Physicality or loss of control over the body renders the fast invalid. Bynum (1991). They must deny the female aspect of self. unless it is involuntary. which demands that the ‘female’ aspect of self must become ‘male’ to attain spiritual excellence. is defined as rendering the fast invalid. but their performances offer a way of understanding a female subjectivity that does not depend for value on adopting a male model of reason. For example. 39). seminal discharge during sleep or dreaming of sexual activity does not render the fast invalid.10 Rather. 11 Cf. The women. . female mystics in medieval Christianity relied on the body to somatize their experiences of the divine despite the critique of human fleshliness. This is based on the prejudicial assumption that nafs is stronger in women and 'aql more developed in men. are based on the idea of transcending nature and becoming disembodied. 10 Here I have found Gatens (1991) inspiring. from Rousseau to feminists like Simon de Beauvoir and Irigary. as the medieval Christian assumption was that physical resurrection was fundamental for the redemption of the soul. On the 'aql/nafs discourse in Morocco. strive more than men to control their nafs and collect spiritual merit to compensate for missed days in worship. however. For example. that women’s piety is merely a reflection of anxieties over prior concepts like excess nafs. Such a perspective merely reinforces the masculine bias. see Rosen (1984: 32) and Eickelman (1998: 196–97.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 229 The Ramadan ideal of attaining spiritual excellence heavily favours men. 236).

is to examine those contexts in which a particular discourse on gender becomes more appropriate or powerful.12 The focus on embodiment can reveal how experience is grounded within a social and material environment and makes it possible to admit women’s particular position in the world and their difference to men. Far from separating the two aspects of self and negating the body. But women’s particularity in relation to men is precisely because they ‘do’ things differently (Strathern 1988: 129–30). Caroline Bynum’s (1987: 30) study of medieval Christianity suggests that the women’s focus on the body is grounded in ‘natural’ experiences and sensations derived from giving birth. Implicit in this formulation is that women are different to men because of their ‘bodies’. Moore. the women affirm it. with the attendant problems of biological essentialism and a failure to register other forms of difference like class or race. Identification is what one does and thus becomes rather than what one is and therefore does. Reclaiming the Body New prospects have been opened by the return to the body in feminist scholarship. according to Bynum (ibid. who also provides further references (1994: 17–25). These differ from the experiences of men. lactating. who. For instance. The project is by no-means straightforward. Abu-Luhghod (1986) argues that poetry provides the Bedouin women a valid channel to express their otherwise ‘veiled sentiments’ and that poetry is a context-controlled counter- 12 . sensual desire becomes converted into virtue and love of God. 13 Scholars have interpreted constructions of desire in various ways.) focus more on symbols of wealth and power. partial and distorted. serving and sacrifice such as preparing and distributing food (food being a powerful symbol of both sacrifice and service). Talal Asad (1987: 173) powerfully argues that in the religious context. What is essential. even if they ‘do’ the same things as men. as it can easily shift and fall prey to an over determination of the category ‘woman’. See.230 chapter eight counters the official mind/body dictates and show that the conceptions formed around the male subject are limited. It implies that their body genderizes their acts.13 The women’s There is a large body of literature on the prospects opened up by the reclaiming of the body and focus on embodied subjectivity in feminist scholarship. however.

representation (Douglas) or desire (Lacan).16 To understand the use of the body and the senses in the women’s Ramadan performances. we need to consider three concepts that gain particular salience during this month. 17 For example. the two are intimately related and central to the women’s Ramadan practices. Tahart and Hal People do not ‘think’ necessarily in verbal media.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 231 focus on the body as a channel for barakat can be placed within this context. Abu-Lughod and Lutz (1990). see below). In daily speech. For a discussion of the relation between intention and ritual commitment see. 1984). 16 Lyon (1995). must be preceded by an expression of intent as a conscious commitment to the act.14 Studies of emotion rightly see it as actively constructed and not a passive or irrational thing that ‘happens’ to a person. hence becoming more ‘meaningful’ or intentional. Good Del Vecchio & Good (1988). Rosaldo (1980. but through the body and its senses.15 Others argue that studies of emotion based on ‘cultural construction’ still see it as a ‘mental’ process. the niyyat made at the beginning of each fasting day is left to the worshipper to formulate. The Sentient Human Body: The Concepts of Niyyat. Parkin (1985). the established structure. Lynch (1990). They are niyyat (intent). though they apply also to acts of worship at other times. ignoring somatic and social dimensions. Unlike the prescribed formula preceding namaz. which both reaffirms. people often . Malti-Douglas (1991: 22) understands Shahrezad’s narration of the ‘1001 Nights’ as transformation of desire into one that is continuous. the formula for the morning namaz is. “I perform two sections of morning namaz seeking closeness to God” (do rak'at namaz-e sobh beja miyavaram qorbatan 'illal"llah). Michael Jackson’s (1983) early critique of the intellectualist tendency that assimilates bodily experience to conceptual formulations. Csordas (1994 b) on a phenomenological approach to the body. 14 See. An examination of these concepts reveals that despite the emphasis on the disengagement of the body from the spirit or soul in Ramadan. and articulates discontent against. Humphrey & Laidlaw (1994: Ch. non-exploitative and permits the forging of relationships. Fasting. like all other acts of worship. 15 See. 4).17 Niyyat is thus an aspect discourse. See also. Jackson & Karp (1990). taharat (ritual purity) and hal (‘feeling’. Privileging embodied perception through meaning-laden sensations produces a body that is an active agent rather than a ‘passive’ object of discipline (Foucault).

19 The opening of the body is particularly salient in moments of transformation and Ramadan is perceived widely as the month of transition par excellence. condition. such as inside the mouth and the nostrils when washing the face. For other Muslim context see. 19 See.18 The women also ensured that water penetrated their body cavities. 319–320). . goal and so on. Julie Marcus (1984: 208) and Reinhart (1990: 20) who argue that tahart is a symbolic ‘sealing’ of the body that relates to ideas about control and pollution (in line with Douglas). 301–306. One of the requirements for approaching God is a state of ritual purity (taharat). hal has a range of different meanings. reason and intellect. Mir-Hosseini (1993a: 169. ecstasy or rapture. But it is located in the heart (niyyat be del ast). consisting of complete immersion of the body in water. Bowen (1993: 23–25. Mrs Omid’s use of niyyat is not just an expression of the responsibility toward her faith. 21 Hal means variously as feeling. On the notion of niyyat. motive. hal amadan). the women use it to indicate a pleasurable feeling (hal dadan. 18 The precepts (ahkam) concerning taharat are among the most comprehensive. As Deborah Kapchan argues (1996: 160) following Douglas (1966). indicating the extent to which a ceremony moves or fully engages them. See. She always stated that her niyyat in all acts of worship was to approach God. The ritual ablutions render the body receptive to the flow of barakat from God rather than. purpose. but also an expression of her passion for the divine. Rosen (1984: 47 ff.184) and Torab (1996: 240–41). symbolically ‘seal’ its contours. but in the ritual context. as some academic scholars suggest. state. These consist of rubbing water over the cardinal points of the body from the top of the head to the big toes in a specified order.20 In ritual performances. The first day of the fast must begin with the major ablutions ( ghusl). In everyday Persian. concepts such as barakat are needed to balance social conceptions of pollution. the expectation of transformation is expressed by the term hal. will.). so that a person’s action is propelled through a combination of both intellect and emotion. circumstance. see also Fischer (1980: 63–64). 20 Kapchan (1996: 160) uses the notion of the permeability of the body to explain the use of henna by Moroccan women in moments of transformation and contexts when ‘impure’ female blood is an issue such as weddings (before consummation) and before childbirth. Laghzaoui (1992: 89–97). 10 for the examples of different types of ritual ablutions. chapter 1 Fn. the seat of emotion. and thereafter only the simpler ablutions (vozu) that are performed also for the daily namaz are required.21 They frequently use niyyat interchangeably (as in Persian dictionaries) with a range of other terms like wish.232 chapter eight of responsibility.

poetry and song in women’s rituals in Pakistan. to come to one’s senses or to recover (be hal amadan).22 For instance. seeking pleasure (colloq. See. or “Your tears are an act of worship. saying for example. Torab (1998: 314–329). Ritual tears are an important means of inducing hal or creating a state of well-being (hal-e khosh). she would sometimes begin to rock gently. Grima. zekr-e mosibat). suggesting the need for further research (1992: 146–147). ritual tears are conceived of as a positive. which lists God’s many names and attributes. 22 In Sufi doctrine. even if there are overlaps. meritorious devotional act. such tears are distinct from tears shed for personal grief and sorrow (gham va ghosseh). Rather. something one learns to do at will. especially if induced artificially by sensational tear-inducing descriptions from the Karbala tragedies (Chapter 5). and her eyes would become glassy ‘as if ’ in a state of abandon. as in the expression hal-o-ahwal (mood and health). which means to undergo change or transformation from one state (hal ) to another. The term carries overtones from the noun tahavvol. humour or health.24 I was told not to worry and be patient if I was unable to weep during the rituals because my tears would flow in time. when Mrs Omid recited her favourite prayer called do'a-ye Yastashir. eyes and spirituality. she would recite a piece of poetry to express her love of God. see also Kalinock (2003: 181). 23 See. Rosen (1984: 166–67). “Weep and your tears will be rewarded”.23 Integral to dirges (rowzeh. Tapper (1994: 225). such as vivid accounts of severed heads gushing with blood. which transposes a person from ordinary experience toward spiritual exaltation. a dirge or mowludi poem rendered in pleasing tones. cantors prompt people to weep. 25 R. Fischer (1980: 100) for a similar observation. Eickelman (1998: 277). where there are multiple associations between running water.25 Breaking off in the middle of a dirge. As Mrs Omid scornfully said. Mrs Omid condemned excessive weeping as religiously disapproved (makruh). hal kardan) (Haim 1975). On the use of hal by women for their rituals. See also. or when they are moved by a preacher’s talk. natural disposition. Later she would say that it had induced hal in her (hal dadan). they will purge sins. 24 See also Christian (1982) on collective weeping as a formal ritual act.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 233 use the term when listening to a stirring piece of Qur"anic recitation. The positive connotations of tears are amplified in the Hadith and in the Qur"an. who notes the link between weeping. . cure ills”. At such times. hal is an expression of a state of ecstasy.

also revival) with extensive namaz and feasting. although Ramadan is known mainly for fasting. In effect.234 chapter eight some preachers and cantors use such techniques for effect to increase their own popularity. Educating the Senses: Reciting the Qur"an Ramadan’s significance is above all for its connection to the Qur"an and the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad. to finish). Among those that I heard are ‘the spring of Qur"an’ (bahar-e Qur"an). its significance is more profound. as indicated by various auspicious references to the month. ‘the month of barakat’ (mah-e mobarak. tears should be in response to spiritual stimuli. for which the women meet every morning throughout Ramadan in a ceremony called khatm-e Qur"an (khatm.26 One of the women in 26 The Qur"an is divided into 30 sections ( joz"). . emotive experiences. Such comments underscore the idea that ritual performances are not intended to merely appeal to the intellect. 114 chapters (sureh). Thus. For Mrs Omid. bringing ‘presence of heart’ (hozur-e qalb). Each day. ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion’ (mah-e rahmat). She celebrates this sacred event over three nightlong vigils (ahya. all the ritual activities of the month are oriented towards these sacred nights. from barakat). they recite one of the thirty sections ( joz") in order to complete all the Chapters by the end of the month. 120 parts (hezb) and 6625 verses (ayeh). It was during this month that the first ‘revelations’ came to the Prophet via the Angel Gabriel on specific nights known as “the Nights of Qadr”. which counter the primacy of mind over body associated with Ramadan. but are meant to be embodied. Khatm-e Qur"an ceremony Ramadan 1413 AHQ (February/March 1993) Prominent among all the devotional activities are the recitations of the Qur"an. these sacred nights are unrivalled in significance to any other event on the calendar. ‘forgiveness’ (mah-e amorzesh) and the month of ‘worship’ (mah-e 'ebadat). based on interpretations of a short Qur"anic Chapter or Sura called “al-Qadr” (S: 97). In her view.

Their daughter and sister-in-law helped host the event. Some of them preferred to begin and close their recitation with an optional formula. followed by questions and answers over the precepts. there was no time for exegeses or any commentary by her. who is a local grocer. she made sure that they vocalised each word correctly and occasionally pencilled in corrections of the diacritical marks in the book in her hands. so that it did not become an empty gesture or show. beginning with prayers from the prayer book. who kept to a simpler. as I was told. Kristina Nelson (1980) and Fischer & Abedi (1990: 101 ff. she always asked us to recite a Qur"anic verse quietly and then blow gently towards the ailing woman. She ended the meetings as usual with a series of supplications and before we left.27 A set of elaborate codes prescribe and regulate the ways in which Qur"anic recitations should be performed. see Alberts (1963: 876) and Donaldson (1973: 180–82). sound and touch of the sacred verses as a means of somatising barakat. Rather. the pious woman was severely ill. Mrs Omid did not adopt an intellectual approach to the recitations in the rituals she led.29 During the recitations. but her husband. speechlike.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 235 Mrs Omid’s circle had sponsored these meetings in her house for the entire month for twenty years. Wrong vocalisation is counted as a grave sin and the women were grateful of the corrections.). although Mrs Omid did not do so herself. . 28 See. as did Mrs Omid 27 For further examples of blowing recited verses. Mrs Omid presided over the meetings. the women’s performances under her guidance indicate that the recitations are meant to waken their senses through the sight. This year. 29 The opening formula was: “May God give refuge from the devil” ('a'uzo be"llahi-mina-sheytan-irrajim) and the closing formula. Mrs Omid appointed various women to recite ten to twenty verses each. alternating the more competent with the beginners.28 However. only slightly intoned style of recitation (tartil ). as a means of channelling barakat toward her. The major portion of the time was spent on Qur"an recitations. so that unlike the jalaseh meetings at other times. Mrs Omid gave everyone a chance to recite. “God has truly spoken” (saddaqat-o"llahol'azim). apart from the requirement of an inward expression of intent preceding the recitation. insisted on continuing with the meetings so that “the flow of barakat would not stop”. and by that he hoped to avert her death or collect for her benefit spiritual merit in preparation for afterlife.

which the women expressed in terms of “having an effect on them” (asar gozashtan) or “having a pleasing transformative effect” (hal dadan). sound was the most salient sensory experience. but a matter of meaningful sound and sight of the sacred verses. In other words. inattentiveness or dozing among those who had been up before dawn for the fasting meal (sahari ). so that the recitation itself derives performative force. Sells (1999) for an interesting interpretation of the relationship of the Qur"anic sound to gender.236 chapter eight herself. and the more elaborate tajvid. that the text was unintelligible. however.31 Judging by the women’s emotive responses to the more melodious forms of intoned recitations. such as ‘the night of destiny becoming pregnant’.) uses the phrase “sound vision” to emphasize the elusive interplay of sound and meaning. there is an extraordinarily balanced gender dynamic in the interplay of Qur"anic sound and meaning. or ‘the earth giving birth on the day of reckoning’ (1999: 183–204). intelligibility is not so much a matter of understanding the logic of the text. Sells 1999).30 She discouraged competitive display of what she called the ‘fashionable’ embellishments of the more melodic style of recitation (tajvid ). This does not mean. in the context of Qur"anic recitation. reinforced by the visual experience derived from Qur"anic calligraphy (1999: 12. The idea of meaningful sound of Qur"anic recitation is based on the widespread belief in the divine origin of the Qur"an and its ‘revelation’ to the Prophet in oral form in Arabic. . which is embedded in implicit metaphors. but Mrs Omid rarely translated the verses. which she would mimic by exaggerating the guttaral 'ayn and nasal sound for comic relief whenever she detected signs of distraction. He notes that despite the largely male historical context of the ‘revelation’. 16). Nelson 1980. Few of the women understand Arabic. though for didactic reasons. such as the simpler tartil. and intoned recitation (called either qera"at-e ba sowt or telavat) is distinguished from a singing voice (ghena". They say that the Qur"an should be rendered in pleasing tones and recited aloud. There are various styles of Qur"anic recitation. its poetic rhythms. sam"). 31 See. allusions and imagery (see. The rhythm and assonance of the verses create a pleasing continuous flow and the 30 Qur"anic recitation (qera"at) is distinguished from ordinary reading (khandan). For those who do not understand Arabic and for the illiterate. Scholars and commentators attribute the appreciation of Qur"anic recitation among devout Muslims to the power and beauty of the Qur"anic language. the senses allow for participation. Michael Sells (ibid. even if they are alone.

the others would follow by moving their lips in a quiet whisper with their index finger 32 In the Islamic Republic. truth) to the heart and the eyes. except in choirs. vision. 1985) and Michael Sells (1999). though illiterate. Qur"anic commentators and scholars have also used these terms as characteristic responses inspired by Qur"anic recitation.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 237 more competent among them drew appreciative rounds of salavat. she told me that the proper response to Qur"anic recitation was a ‘stirring of the heart’ (be del neshastan) and to become aware of God’s greatness with humility and awe. In her view. is constructed as an active agent. savab) and brought ‘light’ (knowledge. Mrs Omid was gently channelling my emotions toward spiritual contemplation. public broadcasts of female singing voices are not permitted. Conservative religious scholars promote the idea that the female voice is particularly seductive. even if they had learned the verses by rote. but to reveal the truth. I often heard them speak highly of a deceased woman who. 33 See. so as not to sound flirtatious. As one woman recited aloud. the Qur"an was neither for entertainment or sensual pleasure. My own response to the more competent renderings was as if I was listening to some moving music. she made sure that doors and windows were closed so that their intoned voices would not carry to unrelated men. khoshu and khozu' (both words mean humility. . On one occasion. When I mentioned this to Mrs Omid. As Mrs Omid once said. Kristina Nelson (1980. But the female voice was a sensitive topic with Mrs Omid and she did not encourage such actions. the mere sight of a shrine during pilgrimage validates the pilgrim’s journey and it was not necessary to touch the shrine itself. She and other preachers reminded their listeners over and over again that the mere sight of the verses of the Qur"an was meritorious (ajr. The sight of the verses seemed to reinforce the women’s sense of divine presence. like sound.32 Based on this construct. a particularly praiseworthy act.33 Thus. submission. During the Qur"an recitations. The women always followed the lines. had learned the entire Qur"an flawlessly by rote (hafez-e Qur"an). She used terms like hozn (‘sadness’). awe) (Haim 1975). Commonly. Mrs Omid had even told her daughter to speak firmly when answering the phone. one of the listeners was so moved by the recitation of one of the more competent women that she sprayed rosewater over the person reciting.

so that the medicine could be imbued with barakat. with each recitation of what they perceive to be God’s Words.35 For the illiterate and uninitiated in Quranic exegeses. the power and attraction of the sensory experience of the sacred verses is evident. Mrs Omid did not consider such actions orthodox. sequence and interconnections between words and actions. the women evoke the moment of its ‘revelation’. A Ceremony on “The night of Qadr” 22 Ramadan 1413 AHQ/16th March 1993 The word ‘Qadr’ derives from the title of one of the short Qur"anic Chapters or Suras (al-Qadr S: 97) and has multiple meanings of power. This verbo-centric approach privileges the literate and the learned. In effect. destiny. During recitation. but did not discourage them. rejects the widely accepted explanations by Tambiah (1968) and Searle (1968) for the ‘power of words’. which they celebrate on the nights of Qadr. Most commentators associate the word with destiny and power and the Qur"anic Sura is frequently called the “Sura of Destiny” (Sells 34 Howes (1991: 9 citing Stoller 1984). arguing that their suggestions are too discursive and that instead. Meaning is here conveyed unmediated through the senses rather than being based on the deductive reasoning of a specialist exegete. To understand the ‘power of words’ in other contexts. 35 See Fisher & Abedi (1990: 111–112).238 chapter eight on the lines—a highly recommended act. redundancy. worth and measurement (Haim 1975). . It has been often pointed out that by virtue of their divine origin.34 Even the Qur"an states (S2: 1–6) that the verses are not self-explanatory and can mislead ordinary people without appropriate supervision. divine decree. it was common practice to place sugar lumps on the printed lines or an open medicine bottle in front of Mrs Omid as she recited. the words of the Qur"an are perceived to be efficacious in themselves. one should take at face value local explanations for the efficacy. Tambiah’s (1968) influential study examines features like images. metaphors. One preacher said the index finger would bear witness to the recitation on Judgement Day.

Sells for three versions of translation of the al-Qadr Sura (1999: 100).36 These state that the ‘revelation’ took place on the night of Qadr. although features specific to the Qadr ceremony are included. The significance of the night is stated in the five verses of this Sura. According to the prayer book Mafatih-al Janan.37 I did not attend any mosque ceremonies around this time. such as holding the Qur"an above the head (see below). 862) and Thaiss (1973: 162–63). The three ceremonies that I attended instead were held by women in their homes. therefore. But I heard that 'Ali’s death dominated the men’s ceremonies at the local mosques down town. that is associated with extraordinary power and potency. Other accounts also focus on men’s mosque commemorations of 'Ali’s death only. who celebrated it on three night-long vigils between the 19th and the 22nd of Ramadan. Interestingly. See. two of which were led by Mrs Omid on the 19th and the 22nd of Ramadan. on the night of Qadr people’s destinies are determined and that those who keep the vigil with namaz and Qur"an recitations will have their sins forgiven and their favours granted. layla in Arabic). The women referred to the ceremony held for this sacred night simply as “The Night of Qadr” (shab-e Qadr. The al-Qadr Sura is associated with the first ‘revelation’ (vahy) of the Qur"an from God to the Prophet on one of the odd-numbered dates between the seventeenth and twenty-seventh of the month. It is a night.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 239 1999: 100–103). This event was the high point of the month for Mrs Omid. Alberts (1963: 849. bringing a continual flow of barakat until dawn. . recitation of the Qur"an and feasting. Mrs Omid told me later when I asked. generally associated with carrying God’s Words to the Prophet) descended to earth by God’s will. Michael Fischer regards Ramadan in its entirety as a memorial for 'Ali (1980: 25. when the spirit (ruh. which coincide with the public holiday for the mortal wounding of 'Ali on the 19th (ad 661) and his death on the 21st (ad 661). or the angel Gabriel. 856. 172–3). Nancy Tapper and Richard Tapper argue that the relation between 36 37 See. or also vigil (ahya). that there was no time to include memorials to 'Ali in her ceremonies. She gave no further explanation. meditation. None included a dirge for 'Ali. because devout Muslims may spend the night in prayer. This opens up all kinds of questions that demand further exploration.

We arrived about an hour before dusk. deserts. 107) and Kamalkhani (1996). It was held at the house of a wealthy widow of the old Qajar elite. There were altogether sixteen guests. Buitelaar notes that in Morocco. one of her daughters and one of the more For other descriptions of the Qadr ceremony see. 307). apart from Mrs Omid and me. to whom Mrs Omid referred as an old friend. those attending the ceremony should have performed the major ritual ablutions (ghusl. there were lengthy recitations of various supplications from the prayer book and the Qur"an as we sat around the meal cloth. After the meal was finished and the dishes were cleared by the maid. Mrs Omid. during which there was some polite conversation. cakes and tea. A domestic help and a male chauffeur remained in the kitchen throughout the ceremony. 287 ff. who refers to the rituals held in Shiraz as “al-af ” (forgiveness). All the three Qadr ceremonies that I attended followed more or less the same sequence recommended in the prayer book Mafatih-al Janan and lasted until after midnight. attracting a high attendance of over 150 women. complete immersion of the body in water). Fischer & Abedi (1990: 70. everyone performed lengthy namaz specific for this night. The other eight guests were elderly female relatives of the hostess. This ceremony included an elaborate fast-breaking feast and was by invitation only. the eve of the 27th Ramadan was the second preferred day after the 15th. This observation underlines a difference between Mrs Omid’s approach to religious practice and the official nature of mosque-centred rituals on this Ramadan occasion. Shortly after our arrival. some lasting at least half an hour. It was open house. 38 . Afterwards we were served an elaborate fast-breaking meal on a meal cloth spread on the floor.240 chapter eight gender and religious orthodoxy is a characteristic of practised Islam everywhere (1987: 88). I will focus on the other (on the 22nd) held at an exclusive ceremony in the wealthier north. but that it was ‘so sacred that many people spend it in prayer’ until late into the night (1993: 64). Vakilian (1992: 85.. Ideally. Guppy (1992: 189). The first ceremony (on the 19th) was held in her neighbourhood downtown. six of which were Mrs Omid’s daughters and granddaughters. I did my best to follow suit.38 I will therefore confine myself to a description of one of the two ceremonies led by Mrs Omid. by my rough estimate. The maid had meanwhile replenished this with fruit.

Fatemeh and the eleven other Imams. but the symbolism of darkness and light indicate a rite of passage from a state of impurity and sin into a new purified state. Some of the guests had brought with them a miniature sized Qur"an for this purpose. 97 al-qadr. as with the other Ramadan ceremonies held by the women. . whose name we repeated twelve times. S. 39 The chapters were in the following order: S. S. Then she recited in a pleasing intoned voice various lengthy prayers specific to the occasion from the prayer book. we helped ourselves to more refreshments. Above all. the lights were turned on. three times for Imam Husseyn and so on until the twelfth Imam.the head and heart tangle: ramadan 241 proficient reciters among the guests took turns to perform the recitations. holding a Qur"an above or resting on our head. the last of which was al-Qadr (S: 97).39 Common to them all is that they are among those revealed initially in Mecca before the Prophet moved to Medina. called joshan-e kabir. Mrs Omid began with her usual announcement that the purpose of the ritual was to create proximity and a relation with God (qorbat va rabeteh ba khoda). Still standing. 'Ali. In conclusion. some women placed sugar lumps on the lines. everyone joined in praying loudly to God to forgive our sins in the names of the Prophet. S. faced Mecca. After the recitations. the lights were turned out. a striking reliance on the body as a channel for barakat through the handling of the Qur"an. once for 'Ali as the first Imam. 44 ad-duhan. brief supplications by Mrs Omid. We all stood up. There was no discussion about the performances. 29 al ankabut. this ceremony demonstrates. during which we all joined in refrains at various points. After some final. Recitation of four shorter chapters from the Qur"an followed. One of these prayers. fruit and cakes that were considered imbued with barakat by virtue of the recitations. in order to share the barakat with members of their household who were not present. repeating their names in turn. 30 ar-rum. was considered particularly propitious and as the recitation was in progress. twice for Imam Hassan as the second Imam.

They promote their own interests. The scope for analysis is considerably widened by the view of gender as a metaphorical base on which difference itself may be understood for many other aspects of life. 1994. This approach provides possibilities for exploring wider issues. it opens up new perspectives into the values and beliefs underpinning the gender constructions. inevitably with corresponding shifts in the gender constructs. What follows is. It links gender ideologies and stereotypes to both cultural symbols and the lived experiences of individuals in the material world. a summary of the line of inquiry of this study and some of the main issues involved that are relevant to the studies of Islam and gender. in order to discover the strategies that actors develop for resisting or subverting the gender constructs. Such an approach would imply that the categories ‘women’ and ‘men’ are given. The study was based on current understandings of gender as contextually specific constructions (Butler 1990. innovation and incremental change. old rituals are redefined and new ones are continually in the making. The premise is on the ways in which the idiom of gender is deployed and contested as a sphere of political agency. The book reveals in particular the ways in which gender itself is inherently unstable and ambiguous. Moore 1988.CONCLUSION This book has addressed the scope and diversity of ritual activities in the rapidly changing complex society of present day Iran. therefore. Strathern 1988). Circumstances change. but they also enable each other. The assumption of this study is rather that gender is a product of specific activities within particular cultural and historical contexts rather than their cause. providing the possibilities of selfexpression. so that a conclusive statement would give a false sense of closure to the study. or begin with a prior assumption of gender inequality. rather than simply as gender roles and relations. 1993. By using gender as an analytic category to elucidate wider social and cultural processes through ritual performance. Men . It did not seek to explain women’s ‘position’ or ‘role’ within Islamic discourses. The women and men who are the subjects of this study celebrate their gender values and capacities through same-sex rituals.

‘Politics’ is used here in the broadest sense. but by artfully emphasizing their difference from men and using this as a positive source of self-worth” (1989: 345). symbols and discourses (Eickelman & Piscatori 1996: 7). taking in interpretation of and contest over rules. Gender operates as a metaphor for social regeneration or fecundity. 1 Janice Boddy makes a similar comment about the zàr rituals in Northern Sudan where. including the promotion of political interests. . Even in the context of the images of self-reproducing males represented iconically in the elaborate nuptial funerary object (hejleh) (Chapter 5). while women on their part continually assess men’s failure to maintain the standards they set for themselves (Chapters 1 & 4). It is as if gender difference needs to be upheld to make possible the functioning of gender relations in the service of social reproduction (Strathern 1988. cf. A martyr’s blood is linked to the theory of patrilineal descent and the political authority of men.conclusion 243 recognize women’s contribution to the well being and prestige of the household. It may intersect with ideas about the body and substances. This includes definitions as to what constitutes proper Islamic conduct.1 Ritual activity thus exposes the imaginary nature of gender constructs by the very fact that gender difference is continually reproduced and affirmed in the service of social regeneration. nonetheless. men promote the idea that women merely ‘gossip’. through which women celebrate their social and moral worth as nurturers and channels for barakat. Food imbued with barakat provides alternative conceptions of sacrifice and regeneration. also denigrate each other. Butler 1990. which is of ideological significance for the organization of society (Chapter 5). “women publicly demand that their value be socially recognized not by competing with men in a common arena. through which women become the recognized agents (Chapter 4). setting the masculine in relation to and hence dependent on the feminine. The men’s Muharram ritual activities (Chapter 5) can be set against women’s votive meals (Chapter 4). even if they choose to interpret them in ways that address their own concerns. such as blood and food (Chapters 4 & 5). but they are the recipes for social action (Strathern 1988: 271). For example. Moore 1999a. Both. while women may uphold laws defined by men. female reproductive capacity is implied. 1993). These processes of gendering may be ‘symbolic’.

Gerholm 1988. In other words. In Iran. 1989a). This means the professionalising of home space at the very time when home and family are hailed as the prime responsibility of women. A new girl’s initiation ceremony becomes a means for the reclaiming of a distinctive identity based on an Islamic moral order. creative spirituality. providers and procreators (Chapter 5). Paradoxically. whereby women resort to the cultural means at their disposal to seek redress for suffering. manipulation and surveillance of rituals. it can be seen as a form of political action from below. A healing ritual (Chapter 2) emerges as a direct consequence of poor healthcare provisions. Ritual and gender are among the key elements in the new Islamist visions. but it is also forced to listen to women’s demands. which is feminized (Chapter 6). Ritual activity is here far from being . as a counter discourse that challenges the established order by using a performative approach to ritual activity (Bell 1992. The state may attempt to co-opt women’s activities. political nature of social and cultural categorizations such as domestic/public is thereby revealed. Schieffelin 1985). but they are also sites of contest. Humphrey & Laidlaw 1994. both have been manipulated by the state. plural. Alternatively. Ritual activity can be seen as a mechanism whereby the established order is ultimately affirmed as an instrument for social control (Bloch 1986. The monitoring of the ‘domestic’ sphere by the government suggests not only the state’s vulnerability to the activities of women’s religious circles. Hughes-Freeland 1998. ritual can be used in the service of power or deployed as power to prevent monopoly of power. what emerges is a decentred. For instance. but also reveals the very ‘public’ dimension of women’s home-based rituals. But far from resigning to misery as fate or test of faith. The arbitrary. while women’s votive meals (sofreh) may be categorized as un-Islamic innovations (bed'at) (Chapter 4). injustice and social ills. the re-domesticization of women after the Iran/Iraq war as model nurturers and caregivers (Chapter 2) went hand in hand with the recasting of the military heroes as heroic protectors. they act upon it in terms of the religious symbols in which they believe to demand justice here and now. There are two basic positions regarding the relation of ritual and established authority or the state. whereby individuals strive to control their own destinies.244 conclusion Gender constructs lie at the heart of the putative levels of ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ Islam. similar votive practices may enjoy tacit support at the highest levels of the clerical regime (Chapters 2 & 3). Despite evidence of state involvement.

and the aspirations. as in the case of working class men embodying masculinised virtues of stoicism. Friedl 1989. as well as the verbal puns directed against the elevated status of all that goes under the banner of the socially ‘high’ (Chapter 7). These rituals reveal how conceptions of class themselves become gendered according to context. When attention is given to a wider range of both women’s and men’s rituals (N. and that ‘dominant symbols’ achieve their intended purpose of resolving tensions to create social cohesion (V. The women’s ritual performances provide glimpses into a society in crisis. multiple voices and interests are revealed. Examples are the vows made to the supernatural agencies for basic needs (Chapter 4). The idea that ritual ‘communicates’ cultural values reflecting or affirming prior concepts or ideologies (Geertz 1973). therefore. Abu Lughod 1986. with conflict over political and religious leadership and with disillusionment with unfulfilled revolutionary promises. Tapper & R. self-sacrifice and strength in the . fraught with internal social tensions. The women encountered in this study indicate some of the complexities involved. but to which they feel they have a right (Chapters 2. Cultural symbols are not static. not simply of meaning or culture. the recruitment of combatants prepared to be martyrs of their faith from among the economically poor (Chapter 5). It is a paradox that the concept of gender conceals differences of social class that are integral to the rituals in Iran. in particular their conceptualisations of social class. conflicts and struggles faced by individuals in their daily lives (cf. This study suggests that religious practice takes on a different sense when lived experience is in conflict with powerful narratives. 3 & 4). Turner 1961) does not. Tapper 1987). the anxieties expressed over appropriation of the girls’ initiation ceremony by the middle classes (Chapter 6). One of the most effective ways of avoiding the pitfalls associated with the homogenizing and static effects of abstract categories such as ‘culture’ or ‘women’ has been to focus on individual life histories. hold. They are products of power and politics at given moments. The choice of the different saints as votive intercessors with God and the dreams and visions of the Mahdi are two examples of how individuals deploy cultural symbols to lay claims to what they are denied. Longinotto & Mir-Hosseini 1998). 1997: 98–99. People imbue religious icons and symbols with their own meanings in line with their concerns through performance. limiting or affirmative of established order and authority.conclusion 245 restrictive.

depending on the specific locations of the actors. Nonetheless. The rituals provide them with possibilities for social competence as sponsors and hostesses. The gap between official representations of gender and daily-lived experience encourages processes of critical self-reflection and reappraisal of the cultural concepts and values to which individuals may adhere while also introducing incremental changes. they may also dispute and blur the gender boundaries through the ritual performances. paradoxically revealing thereby the illusion of a fixed gender. The subjects of this study are middle aged and older women. as well as in studies of Islam and gender. Gender is experienced differently. the experiences of being a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ cannot be singular. mentors or spiritual guides. The issue is how best to deal with the political and theoretical complexities of speaking ‘about’ women while avoiding speaking ‘for’ other women (Moore 1991: 186. with little or no education beyond primary school. The observance of strict veiling is part of their claim to moral superiority. They espouse motherhood and domesticity as the prime responsibility of women and as the source of their power. they ensure strategic alliances to strengthen their own positions as advocates of arranged marriages and guardians of familial status.246 conclusion context of war (Chapter 5). or enable them to act as intermediaries between people and the supernatural agencies or as channels for barakat. 1994). and from the lower middle classes living in south Tehran. By shifting to the realm of social repro- . Same-sex rituals are the very means whereby women and men can celebrate their gender as the very source of their agency. Using their ritual networks to inquire into familial histories. but essentially a means of maintaining gender separation. the women affirm their allegiance to a higher moral order. as teachers. Questions about differences among ‘women’ have been central in the relationship between anthropology and feminism. which is a key to their sense of agency in the world. Clearly. They consider their rituals as a source of joy and support outside the familial framework and as the means toward leading spiritually rich and rewarding lives. Crossing the gendered boundary of self-interest and social good through votive practices (Chapters 2 & 4). An orthodox female preacher extols the male associated virtues of reason and spirituality ('aql ) but also parodies a hermit’s quest for virtue that justifies any means (Chapter 1). but also reveal themselves as self-determining agents that claim the best.

Mahmood 2001a. Exaggerated displays. Mir Hosseini 1999). even contradictory. social and cultural values. gender discourses within their own culture. It is clear that religious practice is intended to cultivate commitment to the moral. Gender volatility is also revealed through the gendering of an ‘ungendered’ child in the relatively new. post-revolutionary. highlighting the disjunctions between the powerful discourses of gender and the lived experience of individuals. as when the posterior is bulked up by a cushion. Torab 1996). The partial effect of the discourses themselves is thus brought to light. Moore 1994: 49–50). ‘Carnivalesque’ (Bakhtin 1968). the religious teachings are the very source . The issue of interpretation is here important and involves processes of ‘compliance’ and ‘resistance’ by individuals positioned in relation to powerful structures and discourses. The ludicrous caricature of the bride in the mock wedding (Chapter 7) parodies a quintessentially feminine ceremony on the very night that is intended to celebrate consummation and conception. The problem increases considerably in the context of religious beliefs and practices (cf. For the subjects of this study. self-parody. 1979. Bourdieu 1992). Questions of resistance and compliance are notoriously difficult to analyse as types of agency (Abu-Lughod 1990. state sponsored girls’ initiation ceremony (Chapter 6).conclusion 247 duction. b. Hegland 1999. satire and dramatic performances provide the most vivid examples of gender flux (Chapter 7). This indeterminacy is an important source for the productive tension between cultural representations and how individuals relate to them. Much social theory addresses the complex issue of agency that can account for both the determining structures of social life and the ways in which change comes about (Giddens 1977. Humour was integral to almost all the women’s rituals and is of course a most effective means of unsettling categories. including gender roles and relations. It is also clear that the relations between the sexes in the discourses of the influential Islamic scholars and clerics are not egalitarian (cf. which paradoxically promotes an essentialized Islamic image of female modesty and simplicity as part of a bid to cultural distinctiveness vis à vis the West. Boddy 1989: 344–348. The ritual performances reveal that individuals engage with multiple. reveal in their very overstatement the imaginary status of “the natural” (Butler 1990b: 146–147). these female-specific votive rituals also alter the terms of a discourse that conceptualizes women as ‘merely’ reproductive by revealing the contradictions contained within the discourse.

These issues merely point out that resistance and compliance cannot be generalized. . Moore 1991: Ch. The apparent anomaly of a feminine agency that helps sustain a system that ranks women as second-class citizens is an underlying preoccupation of much of the literature on gender and Islam. fluid and situational.248 conclusion of their agency in the world in which they live. for example Susan Bordo (1990). but also ethical. but their realignment under 2 Feminist scholars. Strathern 1988: 272–73). It does not mean that individuals see themselves as ‘fragmented’ or lack an ongoing sense of self. acting with the expectations and intentions of others in mind. Compliance may be a cultivated desire. It means that persons are authors of their thoughts and actions. which may not be intentional or may even seem contradictory (Moore 1991: 180–183). This also suggests that identity is experienced as a constant reshaping of the boundaries of selfhood (Mc Clintock 1995: 317). The concept of the subject as a product of power relations (Foucault 1979) suggests one way of explaining why women might comply with this system. The problem is how to account for resistance when it is not part of the conscious politics of the actors without resorting to concepts like ‘false consciousness’. We have seen how the subjects of this study align their personal interests with the wider social good. have rightly asked whether it is possible to account for agency if identity is unstable. but these also depend on and are caused by others (cf. The notion of multiple selves does not mean the disappearance of powerful discourses. 6.2 What constitutes them as agents in the world are such things as the subjective experience of identity. shaped by nonliberal traditions (Mahmood 2001a: 203). including intentions (niyyat) and supernatural agencies as extensions of self are here involved. It may be part of the strategies of negotiation and resistance (Scott 1985). Specific definitions of persons. the physical fact of being an embodied subject and historical continuity (Moore 1994: 55). Huyssen 1990: 271). which implies that people are either incapable of self-reflection or that they are cynical manipulators (Abu-Lughod 1990: 47). But this debate touches on the issues of ‘sameness’ implied by the universal category ‘women’ (cf. Persons are not simply self-interested individuals. Nicholson 1990). which is a necessary condition for agency. but should be seen as specific and contingent on the cultural field within which they operate (cf.

but in addition. This ‘doing’ or ‘performance’ opens possibilities for change in the gender constructs. so that gender is an outcome of their specific acts (Strathern 1988). individuals themselves are multiply constituted. linking the present with the transcendent gives shape and meaning to their daily routines and is the empowering goal. but also are effective means for constructing and renegotiating the relations between the self. without lapsing into essentialism or positing alternative male or female ‘world views’. Ritual activity is an important means whereby multiply composed persons are made into singular form because it is crucial to political agency as well as to the functioning of gender relations. Gender difference does not reside in the body. This perspective of gender as a process helps toward understanding gender difference. For the subjects of this study.conclusion 249 contest. This perspective opens up the possibility for the contextual evaluations of people’s actions beyond a simple resistance/compliance divide. which allows them the scope to act on the world in which they live. It is because women and men do things differently that their bodies are gendered. . It is therefore not simply that there are multiple discourses within cultures. society and the transcendent. What makes the rituals so compelling for the participants is that they not only satisfy personal piety.


Imam Hassan and Imam Husseyn night vigil held during Ramadan celebrating the ‘Night of Qadr’. which refers to the Qur"anic Chapter or Sura called “al-Qadr” (S. age of maturity wedding master Imam Husseyn’s fortieth day after his death effect. spiritual merit (see also savab) ethics a mullah’s son an elaborate. and their two sons. 97). Some men controversially sacrifice sheep in front of the standards on the tenth day ('ashura). in fulfilment of a vow (nazr) reward. lit. asar gozashtan ash-e nazri ash-e reshteh manners and customs human being. humankind (the Persian term is gender free). also revival. who are Fatemeh. beans and whey. who are designated as ‘source of emulation’ (marja'e taqlid ). also called ‘explanatory text on problems [of religion]’ (resalat-e towzih-al-masa"el). ‘those of the house’. sir reason. being effective. which are treatises written by the leading Ayatollahs. injunctions or precepts (also vajebat). her husband Imam 'Ali. referring to the Prophet and his immediate household. also bashar. carried by a standard bearer ('alam-dar) ahead of the Muharram street processions. ‘problem solving nut mixture’. heavy battle standard. raisins. a preliminary ritual carried out ahead of Ramadan in mid Rajab in preparation for Ramadan lord. rationality mentally ‘ripe’. distributed to guests at ceremonial votive meals called sofreh-ye nazri. having an effect votive soup thick soup made with noodles. which is a votive offering (nazri ) consisting of various kinds of nuts. who define the religious precepts for those who choose to follow them precepts regarding vowing (Arabic). ensan just religious rules. almonds and dried seeds. “the Deeds of David’s Mother”. often used as a votive dish . or at shrines. It represents Imam Husseyn’s standard and is revered by men taking part in the processions as a sacred object.GLOSSARY adab va rosum adam 'adel ahkam-e din or simply ahkam ahkam-e nazr ahl-e beyt ahya ajil-e moshgel-gosha ajr akhlaq akhund-zadeh 'alam a'mal-e umm-e-Davud aqa 'aql 'aql-res 'arusi arbab arba'eyn asar.

which people identify in terms of bounty. lit. ensan paradise (bid'a. a sign (of God) a Qur"anic verse which requires an obligatory prostration mourning ‘gateway to favours’ refers to the most popular saints that people consider to be particularly receptive to vows uptowner corresponds broadly to the notion of blessing or grace. piece of cloth covering head to ankles. good fortune. Arabic) innovation. barakat is transferable to people or objects humankind. Veils worn for outdoors are usually black a person who wears a veil prayer-veil. who are the twelve Shi'a Imams veil. refers to a practice considered as ‘un-Islamic’ by the religious orthodoxy ‘Fourteen-Most-Pure’ refers to the Prophet. As an intransitive verb (tabarrok shodeh. well-being and so on. his daughter Fatemeh and his male successors. imbued with barakat).252 'ashura ayeh 'ayeh-ye sejdeh 'azadari bab-ol-hava"ej bala-shahri barakat glossary tenth day of Muharram when Imam Husseyn was martyred a Qur"anic verse. ten days of public celebrations marking Khomeini’s return to Iran in 1979 ten consecutive days of ritual knowledge “Zeynab’s healing practice” street processions. worn without face covering in Iran. prosperity. usually a light colour. also adam. and used only for the daily prayers funerary ritual on the fortieth day following burial ‘evil eye’ popcorn tambourine ‘dawning of a new age’. chest-beating group Muharram procession representing a passing tribe who helped collect for burial the corpses left in the Karbala desert by Yazid’s forces Muharram night vigil consisting of a candle lit procession representing the event when Zeynab searched for lost children and the wounded on the night of the tenth day when her brother Imam Husseyn was martyred on the desert plains of Karbala Muharram procession representing the captives from Imam Husseyn’s followers being taken away by Yazid’s forces tambourine return visits bashar behesht bed'at Chahardah Ma'sum chador chadori chador-namaz chehelleh cheshm-e bad chos-e fil daf dahe-ye fajr dahegi danesh dar-ol-shaf-ye maktab-e Zeynab dasteh-ye sineh-zani dasteh-ye Bani Asad dasteh-ye sham-e ghariban dasteh-ye 'osara dayereh did-o-baz-did .

It is made with saffron. thick brown paste ‘being of the same blood’. linked to tahavvol. derive pleasurable feeling. which was one of the maxims of the Revolution of 1978–79 and is attributed to Ayatollah Khomeini fast breaking meal after sunset control over knowledge to beg prayer modern revolutionary human being. need troubador jester who appears for the New Year. natural disposition. Islam shame festive day. humour. truth religiously forbidden . popularly thought to dispel the ‘evil eye’ (a trope for envy) flirtatious teasing ‘true’ religion. prayer prayer-healing intercessionary supplication a prayer with a long list of praises for God (clapping) with two fingers secular ‘golden penis’ (playful endearment used for infants) 253 worship social justice. pl. ecstasy. gereftari. fuqaha fatemiyeh fatwa fetriyeh fitna gereftar-ha gelim gham va ghosseh gheybat gholam ghusl gonah hafez-e Qur"an hafte-ye vahdat hajat hajji Firuz hal halva ham khuni haqq haram supplication.glossary do'a do'a darmani do'a-ye tavassol do'ay-e Yastashir do angoshti doniyavi dudul tala 'ebadat 'edalat-e ejtema'i eftar ekhtiyar 'elm eltemas-e do'a emruzi enqelabi ensan esfand eshveh eslam-e rastin 'eyb 'eyd faqih. expression referring to patrilineal ties of kinship justice. public event instituted by the Islamic Republic of Iran wish. transformation. condition. to undergo change. state. a sweet dish served at ceremonies for the deceased. misfortune Kelim. a flat woven rug (lower grade rug) sorrow and grief gossip male servant (old usage) ritual ablution by complete immersion of the body in water sin a person who has learned the entire Qur"an by rote ‘week of solidarity’ (among Muslims). rosewater and flour tossed in oil and made into a smooth. sugar. feeling. humankind wild rue. hal dadan or hal amadan. 'eyd mood. health. Persian) those with misfortune. New Year religious jurists rituals commemorating Fatemeh’s death religious decree alms specific to Ramadan (Arabic) social disorder ( fetneh.

Hazrat hejab hejleh hejrat

Excellency, honorific title preceding a name (hijab, Arabic), modesty. Often used to refer to head covering by women (such as veil or head scarf ). nuptial memorial object, bridal chamber on the wedding night (hijra, Arabic) emigration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, from which dates the Islamic ‘lunar’ (Hejri Qamari) calendar beginning in the month of Muharram AD 622 (see Calendars p. iii) Islamic ‘lunar’ calendar (see Calendars p. viii) Iranian ‘solar’ calendar (see Calendars p. viii) anecdote ululation men’s religious association men’s neighbourhood religious association men’s religious association based on professional interests animal menstrual blood ‘party of God’, a post-revolutionary self-designation of a political group forum used for religious meetings or ceremonies, funded by religious endowments (vaqf ) or individuals. These places are associated primarily with Imam Husseyn and are often dedicated to him presence of heart, often used in relation to the recitation of the Qur"an (huzn, Arabic) ‘sadness’, a response to Qur"anic recitation (see also khoshu', khozu' ) the Mahdi, the (Hidden) Twelfth Imam (b. 255 ah/868 ad) Qur"anic divination “Twelver” Shi'ism, the largest branch of Shi'ism, referring to belief in the twelve Imams as the successors of the Prophet Muhammad. The other major branches within Shi'ism are the Isma'ilis (the “Seveners”) and the Zeydis (Zaidi, Arabic)

hejri qamari hejri shamsi hekayat helheleh hey"at hey"at-e mahalleh hey"at-e senfi heyvan heyz hezbollahi Hosseyniyeh hozur-e qalb hozn Imam-e Ghayeb istikhareh ithna 'ashariya

jahaz trousseau jahl ignorance meeting, religious meeting jalaseh jalaseh-ye umumi open-house jalaseh jashn celebration jashn-e 'ebadat celebration of worship jashn-e 'Omar ritual celebration of the Sunni Caliph 'Omar’s death jashn-e taklif celebration for the onset of puberty jashn-e tavvalod birthday party jashn-e mas"uliyat celebration of responsibility jehad see jihad jens, jensiyat gender jesm body jihad (Persian, jehad ) endeavour, struggle, ‘holy war’ kachi kaniz kereshmeh khab a sweet saffron and rosewater scented paste made with flour tossed in oil, served as a votive dish maidservant, slave flirtatious sleep, dream

khak kardan khak-e torbat khaki khatm khatm-e "an'am


burial, also dafn kardan shrine dust humble end, funerary ritual on the third day after burial ritual recitation of the Qur"anic chapter (S:6) al "an'am (Arabic pl. cattle, from the root n'm, Persian ne'mat, abundance, blessing khatm-e Qur"an Ramadan ceremony; recitation of the entire Qur"an, one of the thirty sections ( joz") on each day of the month khatneh male circumcision (removal of foreskin) kharji expenditure, ceremonial expenditure kheyrat alms for the benefit of the spirit of the dead khotbeh sermon khorafat superstition khoms religious tax, ‘one fifth tax’ levied on income and capital gains khoshu' (like khozu' ) humility, submission, awe (a response to Qur"anic recitation) khozu' (like khoshu' ) humility, submission, awe (a response to Qur"anic recitation) khorafat superstition khun blood kolah-e shar'i gozashtan ‘play legal tricks’ kucheh-bazaari popular, lit. ‘of the streets and bazaars’ la'n, la'nat latifeh laleh to damn, damnation joke 1) tulip 2) candle-lit lantern with a tulip-shaped hub 3) icon of the Islamic Republic 4) a lover’s blood shed in his quest for love in Sufi inspired poetry 5) nuptial memorial object used for deceased men and martyrs hereafter a person who sings praises to the Prophet and the saints materiality (Arabic) ‘Keys to Paradise’ refers to a prayer book containing many prayers and supplications including those attributed to the Imams a permitted relationship, unrestricted by rules of veiling and avoidance between members of the opposite sex who cannot marry (see also mahramiyat and namahram) rules regulating interaction between the opposite sexes, depending on whether they are classified as either potential marriage partners or not (see, mahram, namahram) ‘rituals of debauchery and cursing’ gathering healing ritual religiously disapproved, but not prohibited doctrinaire, ideologically committed spirituality or morality wimple, worn with a long loose fitting overall over trousers as an alternative to the veil. It is obligatory for women working in state institutions, as well as for school girls and University students man

ma'ad maddah maddiyat mafatih-al-janan mahram mahramiyat majales-e sabb va la'n majles majles-e do'a daramani makruh maktabi ma'naviyat maqna'eh


ma'refat mariz, mariz-ha marizi marja'e taqlid mazhab mellat menbar mohr

spirituality, esoteric knowledge the ill, the patient (s) illness ‘source of emulation’, leading Ayatollahs (or mujtahid), whose edicts are binding on those who choose to follow them as their spiritual guides religious nation, people pulpit in mosques prayer tablet used by Shi'i during the daily prayers, said to represent the earth on the plains of Karbala where Imam Husseyn’s blood was shed. The tablet is placed on the floor and the worshipper places the forehead on it during the act of prostration propitious (for making vows) believer desire, need, wish, favour powerful elite oppressed masses celebration of birth, poem celebrating birth singing mowludi poems first lunar month on the Shi'a calendar senior religious scholar ('ulama) who can exercise ijtihad, authoritative judgements on interpreting the law from the sources the animal part of human nature, lust, passion unfulfilled desire for progeny a relationship restricted by rules of veiling and avoidance between members of the opposite sex who are potential marriage partners (see also mahram and mahramiyat) daily prayers, Arabic salat congregational prayer Friday prayer, congregational prayer the ideology of male honour linked to women’s chastity or shame (haya) to cast an ‘evil eye’ (cheshm-e bad) (to envy) to be the object of the ‘evil eye’ vow offering to make a vow vows and needs coquettish ritual impurity intent small sugar balls elegy related to the martyrdom of Imam Husseyn in Karbala; see also rowzeh New Year lit. “Killing 'Omar”, a Shi'i ritual associated with the death of the Sunni Caliph 'Omar traditionally backward (pejorative) traditionally backward with a chdor (pejorative) purity, ritual purity downtowner

mojjarrab mo'men morad mostakbarin mostas'afin mowludi mowludi-khani Muharram mujtahid nafs nakam namahram namaz namaz-jama'at namaz-jom'eh namus nazar zadan nazar khordan nazr nazri nazr kardan nazr-o-niyaz naz nejasat niyyat noql nowheh nowruz 'Omar koshan ommol ommol-chadori paki pa"in-shahri

panj tan parti-bazi pish-namaz pishvaz ruzeh qameh zani qorbani rahbar rahnama rak'at rast-dini reng, rengi ro"ya rowzeh


‘the five bodies’ referring to the Prophet, Fatemeh and her husband 'Ali and their two sons Hassan and Hosseyn lobbying prayer-leader welcoming Ramadan by starting to fast ahead of the month ritual cutting of the scalp with a blade during the Muharram street processions sacrifice leader guide section of namaz ‘true’ religion, Islam dance tempo dream (Arabic, rawda) a) dirge ritual commemorating Imam Husseyn’s martyrdom b) the narratives of martyrdom recounting the tragedies of Karbala c) the rendering of the dirge (rowzeh-khani ) by professional cantors (rowzeh-khan) d) a ‘garden’, associated with Paradise. See, also nowheh dirge cantor spirit or soul mother’s day woman’s day fasting to ‘buy’ outstanding fasting debts of a deceased by paying someone trustworthy to fast by proxy fasting debt

rowzeh-khan ruh ruz-e madar ruz-e zan ruzeh ruzeh kharidan ruzeh-ye qarzi sadaqeh sahari sahm-e Emam

alms fasting meal at dawn “the Imam’s share” of half of the “one fifth” religious tax (khoms) levied on net income and capital gain, which he can spend as he considers suitable. It is a major source of wealth and independent power for the leading Ayatollahs saqqa water bearer sal year, annual commemoration ritual following death salat (Arabic) daily prayers, Persian namaz salavat ritual greetings to the Prophet and his descendants samanu votive dish made of germinating wheat associated with Fatemeh’s craving during pregnancy savab spiritual merit seda-ye garm warm voice seyyed descendants in the line of the Prophet seyyed-e tabataba"i bilateral seyyed colloq. propitious seyyed, lit. ‘seyyed of the hearth’ seyyed-e ojagh seyyed-e shohada ‘the king of martyrs’, refers to Imam Husseyn shab-e haft funerary ritual on eve of the seventh day following burial shabih passion play, see also ta'ziyeh shahadat declaration of faith, bearing witness, martyrdom shakk dar namaz doubt during namaz (as to whether a particular section has been missed), rules regarding this in the book of precepts (ahkam) Shamsi Iranian ‘solar’ civil calendar (see calendars p. iii)

shari'a shol-e zard


Islamic law sweet saffron and rosewater-scented rice pudding, associated with Imam Hosseyn’s fourtieth arba'eyn shukhi joke sigheh temporary marriage sigheh-ye nim taneh be bala colloq. non-sexual temporary marriage, lit. ‘above midbody’ siyasat politics sofreh meal cloth, votive meal sofreh-ye nazri ceremonial votive meal as offering usually in fulfilment of a vow sonnat (sunna, Arabic) the Prophet’s traditions, custom sorud song sotun-e din pillar of religion sureh a chapter of the Qur"an ta'at tabaqeh-ye ejtema'i ta"bir-e khab tafsir tafsir-e daqiq tafsir-e azad taghuti taharat tahzib-e nafs takhcheh taklif talab-e donya tamkin taqwa tartil tasbih-e Hazrat-e Zahra tasu'a Arabic tavvaf ta'ziyeh tazkiyeh-ye ruh tekkiyeh tombak towbeh ujrat-ol-mithl 'ulama umma vajebat vaqf vasvas velayat-e faqih vozu worship social class interpretation of dreams exegesis accurate exegesis liberal exegesis ‘idol worshippers’, a revolutionary slogan (used in opposition to hezbollahi ) to designate the secular, rich classes ritual purity disciplining the nafs shelf puberty, duty, task, imposition preoccupation with this world obedience, a controversial precept regarding obedience by women to husbands piety slightly intoned style of Qur"an recitation ‘Fatemeh’s rosary’, a short prayer in the form of a zikr, using a rosary to keep count the ninth day of Muharram circumambulation of the Ka'ba during the Meccan hajj passion play, see also shabih refinement of the soul/spirit temporary venue like a large tent set up for Muharram ceremonies tambourine repentance payment of like wages for housework scholars, clergy (Arabic) Muslim community (Persian ommat) obligatory religious rules, see, ahkam-e din religious endowment fussy, preoccupation with detail guardianship (or government) of the jurist ritual ablution

zakat zan zanan zanjir zani zena zikr zikr-e mosibat ziyarat ziyarat-nameh ziyarat-e 'ashura


religious taxes on agricultural produce, livestock, gold and silver woman women ritual self-flagellation with chain flails during the Muharram street processions adultery, illicit sex (zekr, Persian) ritual repetition of a word or phrase from the Qur"an or from a prayer short dirge pilgrimage shrine visitation greeting (a prayer) dirge related to Imam Husseyn’s martyrdom on the tenth day of Muharram


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3n. P. G. 189n Bourdieu. 244 Boddy. 196n Altorki. 227n. Pierre et al. P. 215.C. 155n Appadurai. 159n. 211 Ardener. 189.A. Janice. Edwin. 194n. 17n. 138n. 33. 68n Adelkhah. 66n. 17n. 207n Bilu. Mangol. 196. 218n. 197n. 57n.. 13n. 43n. 149n. Yusif. xiii. 183n. 15. 17n. 119n. 238n.. 139n. 13n. 136. 59n. 137n. 86n Alberts. Lila. 207n. 214n Bell. 144n. 11. 248n Borghei. 7. 23. 2. 32n. 18n Ahmed. Leila. 220n. 3 Battaglia. 43n. 134n Bonte. 18n. 93n. 22n. 2 Bordo. 137n. 66n. 14n. 21n 'Ali. Said Amir. 117n. 230 Austin. 194n. 6n.L.. 188n. 185n. 27n. xiv. Simone de. 142n Bruck. 243n. 92. 132n. Jon W. 6n Aggarwal. 36n. 114n Anjavi-Shirazi. 21n. 149n Ahmed. 211. S. 23n. 21n. 188n Buchta. Maurice. 115n Adle. Susan . 188n . Haleh. 247. 184.. 178. Arjun. 66n Braswell. Yoram. R. 19n. Donna Lee. 247 Bowen. 32n. 149n. 6n. 19n Aghai.. 178n. 112n.. 47n. 132. 7n Bakhtin. Andrew. 188n. 3. 24. 20n. Mikhail M. 21n. Abdelwahab. 2 Al Khalifa Sharif. 71.. 21n. 247 Bohannan.W. Gerd. John R. 154.AUTHOR INDEX Abedi. 128n. Gregory. 247 Baron.H. 131n. 21n. 196. Beth. 26. 2. 170. 23. 3.. 210n Anderson. 19n.. Nadia. 21n. 155n Booth. 42n. 13n. 155n. 21n. Talal. Debbora. 134n.. 212. 59n Al-Ali.A. 107n. 195. 195n. 196n Buckley. 7n. 213n. 213. 244 Betteridge. M. xiv. 136. 235n... 141n. 232n Boyer. 95n. 21n. Richard. 142n Botman. 158. 40n. 3. 189n Bloch. 22. Jaber. 231n. 43n Beauvoir. S. 22n Arjomand. Pascal. 96n Baumann. Kamran Scot. Margot. Rosi. vom Gabriele. 45n. 71n Bateson. 3. 154n. 142n. 13n.C. Catherine. 2 Bowen. Bahram. 96n. 21n. 22n.. 140n. 98n Antoun. 112n. 24n.. 92n Bayat. 27n Amir-Mo"ezzi. 188n. 130. 14n. 134n. 137n Beyza"i. A. 12n Badran. 239n Al-e Ahmad. 14n. 12n Afshar. Soraya. Anne H. 229n Beeman. 17 Anderson. Farideh. 129n. 1n. 182 Algar. 235n. 170. 142n Asad. Wilfried. J. Selma. 240n Abtahi. 183n Bauman. 134n. 182n. 154n. 13n. 2. Tayba Hassan. 53n. 107 Abu-Lughod. Jalal.. Akbar S. 27. Thomas. 162–163 passim. 210n. 96n Akhavi. William O. Benedict. 17n. Mahnaz. Mehdi. 2 Bouhdiba. 46n 'Anassori. 178n. Richard T. Fariba. 155n.. 3. 180n Bauer. Marilyn. 115n. 115n. 2. S. 248 Abu-Zahra. 24. Nadje. 47n. 162n. 37n. 43n. 20n. 21n Braidotti.. 65n. 139. 19n. 17n Afkhami. Janet. Hamid. 19. 20n. 137n Apter. 19n. C. M. 11n. Pierre. 43n. 23 Azari. 197n.

3. 154n. Alma. 21n. 43n.W. 117n. 111n Ezzati. 130n. James. 13n. 87n. Ernest. 154. 111n Guppy. 22n. Michel. 93n Heady. 12n Connerton. 161n. 21n. 61. 233n Clifford. 156n. 214n. 34n. 216. 232. 18n Capps. 20n. 24. 141. Clifford. 135n. Paul. 231. 161n Gerholm. 229. 247 Gilmore.. 160n Foucault. 211. 247 Bynum. 21n. 183. 126n Chelkowski. 18n. 159n. Evelyn A. 178n. 245 Gellner. 190n Gilsenan. Teresa. 130n.. 114n Combs-Schilling. 190n Del Valle. Ervin. 27 Cohen. 231n Goody. 46n Gell. 132n. 20n. 158n. 45n. 9.. 16.. 240n Butler. 195. 159.. 141n. 52n. 107n. 19n.. 160. 213. 140n Fabian. 128. 116n. 33.. 44n. 20n Fernea. 12n Delaney. 229n. Lisa. Caroline. 194n. 189n Connell. 158. 3. 231n Good. 18n. 210. 141n. 59n Fawzi-el-Solh. 43n. Judith. 3. 21. 44n. Janet. A. 216n Fraser.. 19n. 96n. S. 64 Harris. Elizabeth W. 232n Drucker-Brown. M. 188n. 210n.J. Anthony. 168. A. 20. 11n. 90 Friedl. 20. 142n. Shusha. xiv. 83n. 213n Haraway. Nancy. 131n. 182n. 114n. 91n. R. Susan. 156 . Peter. 158. 139n Hedayat.E. 214. Byron J. 155n. 20n. Iain R. Marjo. 69n. 159n. 235n Douglas. 228n. 142n. 10n Csordas. 158. 18n Ewing.H. 213. James. Angela. 21n. Michael M. 44n. Jean. 185n. 221n Grima. Michael. 211 Early. 114n Gheissari.W. 46n. 140n. 19n. 2 Edgar. Donna. 20n. 23.. Ali. Tanya. 10n Diski. 23n. 23n. 59n. 80. 246 Gatens. 213n. 149n Christian.. 65.. 195n Cantwell-Smith. Wilfred. 3. 155n. 7. 142 Gluckman. 239.A. 154n. M. 92n Good. Ingvild. Camillia. 107n. 170. xiv.. 88n. 83. 167 Harrison. 15. 17n. 235n. 70. 230 Calmard.. 229n Geertz. Steve. 32n. 10n. Evelyn. 89. Patrick. 19n. 111n Eickelman. 229n. J. 162n. 17n. 13. 112... 19n. 212. 114. Peter J.. 114n Comaroff.. 39n. John L. Nancy. 188n. 232n. 64n Hartsock. Erika. 27n Fernandez. 243 El-Zein... 233n. Thomas J.. 18n De Groot. B. 141n. 244 Geschiere. 2. 210n. 10–11 passim. xiv. Alfred. 58. Jack. R. 238 Hammoudi. 10. Simon. Katherine P. 16. Carol. 233n.. 183.. 23n. 226n. 188n Greenblatt. 130. 23. 130n. 137n. Moira. Abner. 194n.E. W. 89n. 116n. 44n Giddens. 37n. 111. 42n. Jean. 167n. 237. 94n. 85n. 3. 197 Cornwall. 210n Goffman. 248 Fox Keller. 64. Dale F. 212n Comaroff. A.. 231n Dabashi. David. Sadegh. 231. Joanna. 19. 111n. 43n. 48n. 2. 149n. 9. 89n Fischer.A. 80. 19n. 184n Harrod. 131n. 20n Ferzacca. 43n Davies. 2. von. 93n. 214. 2n Gottlieb. 92n Carsten. Sami K. Olivia. S. 240n Flaskerud. 233n Grunebaum. 141n. 240n Haeri. 184. 17n. Thomas.. 233n. 22n Farsoun. Hamid. Mary-Jo Del Vecchio. Max. 20n. 3. 242. 13n. 188n. 113n. B. 115n Buitelaar. 128n Haim. Shahla. Andrea. G. 186n Carter. 55n. 227n. 243. 190n Donaldson.282 author index Fernea. Jenny. Mary. 5. 114.

91n. 231n. 22. 119n. 129n. 185n Kian-Thiébaut. 186n Martin. Morny et al. 142n Keddie. 181. 215 Lewis. 211. Brinkley. 120n. Julie. 132n. G. Latifa. 17n. José E. 9. 27n Hooglund. Adam. 115n.. 218. 12n.. 110n.. Genevieve. 231n Jacobus. 180n. 88n Loeffler. 1n. F. H.. Robert. 248 Jackson. Dorinne K. Claude. 115n.. 9n. Carol. 60n. Marcel. 59n Mashayekhi. 86 Loizos. 93n Hertz. 58n Lloyd. 58n Hollway. 140n. 178n. 137n Hughes-Freeland. 2 Joy. Gilbert. 14n Kalinock. 160. Fatma. 19. 24. 120n. 191 Laidlaw. 231n MacCormack. 2. 220n Lincoln. 161. Iris. 40n. 3. W. 129n. 150n. Ioan M. 17n. 23. 231n. 232n Karp. 155n Jean-Klein. Mehrdad. 131. 3. 43n . 131 Hugh-Jones. 18n. 21n. 21n. 177n. 247 Henriques. E. Nancy C. 144n. 21n. 248 Merguerian. William. 248 Majlesi. 65n. 19n. 60. 166n. 153 McClintock. 7n Hobsbawm.. Sabine. 238n Hubert. Michael . Peter. Ladislav. 111n. 137 Kuper. Richard. 59n.T. et al. 22n. Henri. 6n. 1n. Andreas. 68n. Igor. 2. Lawrence A. 129. 139. 13 Lock. 18n Leach.. 137n. 232n Lakoff. 59 Howes. 21n Kaufert. 183n Kapchan. M. 66 Holy. 3. Laal. Nancy. 2. Saba. 193n Madelung. Felicia. 2. 188n. 149n Mauss. 10n. 21n. index Hegland.. Suad. 50n. 80..J. 140n Messick. 3. 83n La Fontaine. 139n Longinotto. Deniz. Ivan.. 59n Masse. Zahra. 220n. 13n Higgins. 4. 245 Lutkehaus. 142. 141n. 10n. 216n James. L. 165n J\drej... Nancy (see also Nancy Tapper). 159n. 232n Marcus. Mary. Owen M. 9 Marriott. 4n... 171. 112. Fedwa. 23n. James. 139. Anne. 112 Jenkins. 60n. Nikki R. 108n. 126 Jankowiak. 212. 189 Hoffman-Ladd. 247. 19. Kim. 13n. Edmund R.. 233n Kamalkhani. 108n. 183. 171.. Willy. 17n. Jean S. Homa. 6n. S. M. 240n Kandiyoti. 244 Laghzaoui. 138n Limón. Margaret. 157 Jamzadeh. 7n. 17n. D. 210n. 2. 3. Julian. 111n. 24 Jordanova.. 22n. 24 Lambek. 61n. 97n. 96n. 21.. 231n Katira"i. M. Jane. 43n. Patricia A. 186n Hoodfar. 66.. McKim. 35n. 5n. 3. Caroline. 196n Malti-Douglas. 88n Kazemi. 244 Huyssen. 21n. Gayane Karen.. 12n Kondo... 115n Jay. 22n Metcalf. B.. Wendy.. 231n Lyon. 190n Lynch. 232. 211n Lindisfarne-Tapper. Azadeh. 37n. 178n. 6n. Valerie J. 231n Marcus. Deborah. 217 Mernissi. 65n. 2. 81n 283 Khatib-Chahidi. 137. 42n Mahmood. Mary Elaine. 159n. 31n. 211 Jansen. 136. E.C.. 1n Lewis. 17n Hourcade. M. 165. 65. 186n. George E. 128n. 17n. 5n. 60n. 244 Humphrey. 111. 9n. 19n. Patricia J.. 22n. 118n.. Vanessa. 218n. 131n.. 125n Meskoub. 7n. 180n. 212 Lévi-Strauss. Barbara D. 10n Joseph. 150. Michael. Bruce. xiv.B. Reinhold. Margot L. 110n Laderman. Stephen. Wendy.. M. 21n Massoudieh. 60n.. 24n Johnson. 6n.. 183 Hoffman. 180n.. 108n. 27n Kopytoff.

50n. 116n. Nancy). Haideh. 67. Annelis. 16. 236. James. 19n. 216n Sontag. Richard L. 4. 20n. 5. 186. 176n Rosaldo. 21n. Afsaneh. 14n. 185n. 3.. Margaret A. 17n.. 22n. 20. 155n. 49n Safa-Isfahani. 216. M. 177. 69n. 237n Nicholson. Paula. Parvin. 91n. 248. 146n. 2. 39n. 60n. Michelle Z. 50. 9.J. 12. 130. A.. 159n. 163n Peristiany. 19. 211. 242. 13n Mussalam. 232n. Kevin.. 162. 115n Stallybrass. 116n. Mills. 183n. 87n. Azar. 185. 59n. 145n. 132n Strathern.. 184n Sahraee-Smith. Henry Jr. 88n Ochs. 207n Schubel. 125. 165n Pinault. 6n. 181n. 21n Said. 137.R. 92n. 150n Moghadam. 238. R. 211n Rastegar. 111n. 21n. 220. 8n. 157n. Valentine M.284 author index Richards. 155n. 126 Mir-Hosseini. 2.. 23n. 6n. 66. 69n. 12n Moghissi... 91n. 13n. 167. 7n. J. 5n. 138n. 42n. 12n. 238. Paul B. 12n. 18n. 238n Tapper. Gregory. 248n Nichter. S. 92n Okely. Azar. Susan. 141n. Rodney. Henrietta L. 6n. Edward W. 192. 90. A. 70n Munson. 236n. 159n Murata. 239n Shaw. 10. 12n Momen. 190. 231n Roscoe. 232n . 14n. 112 Shokurzadeh. 13n Poya. 5. 19n. 13n. 116. 138. 247. Mark. 10n. 171. 3n Scott. Marshall. Audrey.. Cynthia. Rosalind. 96n Tabari. 49n. 12. David. 217. 51n.. 80 Rappoport. Michael. 230. 138n. Sherry B. 248n Moors.. 14n Nelson. 111. 150 Parkin. Roy A. 96n. Judith. 5n. 137n. 139n. 60n Needham.. 144n. 5. 131. 220n. 190n. Maryam. Cornelia. 89n. Peter.. 20n Schumacher. 178n Steedman. 12n. 212. A. 21n. 159n. 50n. 80n Sorabji. 155 Piscatori. 178 Reinhart.A. Elinor. 24. 159n. 115n. 133n.C. Linda J. 5n. 120n. 230n. 221 Starrett. 96n. 163. 53n Motahhari. 137n.. 6n. 6n. 3. 231n Parry. I. 70n. 2.. 84n. 177n. 13n. 148n Moeller. Nancy. 248. 12n. 245 Moaveni.. 237n. 21n Scott. 14n.G.F. 191. 190n Schechner. 186n. Kristina. 35. 92n Ortner. Angela. 6. 20n.. 17n. 98n. 25. 150n. 248 Sells. 83n Rosen. 84n.. 88n. 217n Sahlins. Joan Wallach. 112. 178. 37n. 51. Ziba. 13n. 12n. Mehdi. 243. 236.. 7n Radcliffe-Browne. 12n. 190n Roseman. 3. 131n. 190n. 9. 211. xiv. 22n. 2. 216n Nafisi. xiii.. Guity. 143n.. 2. 219. B. 217n Najmabadi. 167. 137. 49n. 22n. 229n. 135n. 244 Schimmel. 111n Moslem. 98n. 22n. 22. D. Elaheh. 144n Moore. 130n. I. 187n Spellman. Azadeh. 186n. 37n. 15. 243. 235n. 9. Lawrence. 115n. 13n Peteet. Annemarie. Julien. 118n.. 182. 108n. Zohreh. Vernon J. 2. 59n. Moojan. 115n. 3. 233n Rostami Povey. 69n. 19n. 15n. Julie. 17n. 90n. 6n Tambiah. M. 87n.. 243 Pitt-Rivers. Richard. 184. 9 Sanders. 27n. 10n. Jonathan. Sachiho. 2. 114n Schieffelin. Nancy (see also Lindisfarne.. 217n Nashat. 18n. 114n. Carolyn. 20n. David.. 242. 245 Tapper. 12n. 43n. 137n. 58n. Sally. 14n Paidar. 125n. 13n. 120n Shuttleworth. 50n. 10n. 119n. 131 Nelson. 249 Sullivan. 157. 22n Scheper-Hughes. Kathryn. 163. 210n. 21n. 21n. 21n Spellberg. 15. 43. xiii. Marilyn. 22. 115n. 21n. 246. S. 232n. 4. 239. J. Edward L. 65.

S. 42n. 144n. 37n. 17n. Gustav E. 59n. 115n Zipes. 22n. 115n 285 Werbner. 140n. Barbara. 43n. Uni. 219. 12n Torab. 108n. 142n. 240n Valerie. 43n. 142n. 19n. 170. Jack. xiii. 110n. 87n. 189n. 245 Tedlock. 216. 220. 115n . 9 Wikan.. 115n. 98n. Susan. xiv. 233n. 80n. 245 Vakilian.. 158n. 138n. 32n. 226n Turner. 24. 126n Zubaida.. 120n. Nayereh. 50n. Arnold. 60n. 21. 59.M. 40n. index 131n. 13n. 21n. Abbas.. Azam. 135n. 31n. 44n. Harriet. 45n. 221 White. D. 23. 3. Sami.. 239n Tohidi. Valerio. Pnina. Allon. 3. 44n. 42n. 214n White. 19n. 6n. Victor. 212. 233n. 88. 137n. 220n. 50n Yamani. Jenny B. 13n Wright. 20. 111n Thaiss. 40n. 247 Turner. Bryan S. 188n Varisco. 232n. 58n Whitehead. 210n.A. 59 van Gennep. 97n. 19. 6. 239. Mai. 131n Vali. 15.

popular associations and signs. concept. 128–131. 157. 98. fetriyeh. saints (concepts) alms or charity. 179 duality of agency. see. satire 'aql/nafs (reason. lust). 92. 225. Christianity (Catholic Confirmation). 132. 227 kheyrat. see. intention. 35. 238. 110–112. ritual ceremonies (Ramadan) Barbie dolls (American) and veiled piety. 11. 39. 238. see. tropes and symbols. Qur"an (recitations). innovation (strategic uses). 155n revaluation of the body (in women’s Ramadan rituals). 101. 145. 229. idioms. 110. see also. 123. 153. 99. 27. linked to social responsibility. 217–218 Cartesian mind/body legacy (parallels with 'aql/nafs). 147. 161n ahl-e beyt (‘those of the House’). see. see. associations and operations. 109. 213. irony. 231–241 tension between autonomy and conformity (in initiation ritual). see also. 111. 146–148. . 225. performance. 165. 177–179 women controlling men’s nafs. 17. blurring in ritual performances. 224. negotiations). 204. 135. 241 quantified. 60n. 128n 'ashura. 200. 109. 12–14n. 12–14. 49–51. for the benefit of the spirit of the dead. 154. 214. the Prophet’s household. see also. rationality/passion. 225. 'aql/nafs (conservative discourses). 102. 15. 13. 201. 204. ritual ceremonies (Muharram) auspiciousness. 109. 241 popular channels and signs in context. and relation to “west-toxication” (gharbzadegi ) discourse. gender. jokes. motherhood types of agency. key gendered constructs. 239 somatising. 31. 34–35. see also. sadaqeh. piety (official discourses). 162 discourse by 'Ali Shari'ati. 110. 194–222. 46. 60. 179–180 Bat Mitzvah. Islam (modernity) bab-ol-hava"ej (‘gateway to favours’). 32. 128. 181 extended agency. 123–124. 182n. 85. see also. 49–56. fertility and regeneration. 132–135. innovation * Note for users: Subcategories of cross references appear in brackets. 129–131. 231–236. 95. ritual ceremonies (initiation) bed'at (un-Islamic novelty). 26. 169. 74. salavat (gifts for the deceased) anecdotes (hekayat). 198. Hadith. empirically. used locally. 118. ‘compliance’/‘resistance’ default agency. Qur"an (divination) ‘authenticity’. 99. 129n–130n. 231–236. halva. 48–62. 192. see also. 61–65. 182–184. 161. 157n. 23 conservative discourses. 107. 77. 241. 169. 100. saints (concepts) barakat (‘blessing’). see.SUBJECT INDEX* agency. 135–138. analytically. contingent agency. see. marriage (exchanges. 77. used in jalaseh. 46n. ‘invention of tradition’. supernatural agency sources of agency. 33n. 140–144. 226–227. body (sentient body). 173. 148n.

attributes of. ritual ceremonies charity. 116. 243. taboo regeneration. see. as a rite of passage into male gender. ritual cycles Caliphs. 18n. believer (mo"men). 93n. 125n. symbolism). fairy tales. 139–168. criticism of ) millennialism. 71. 10n. Christianity cantors. compared to story of “Lady Houri and Lady Light”. see also. 112. 159n. 15. 247. 49. 52n 'Omar. 186. body (symbolism). see. 187n. 233n saint. body concepts. 22n. ‘habitus’ ‘partibility’. gender. 210. 213n. 117n gender constructs. 130. 186n. xvi–xvii.) purity symbolism. martyrs. see also. subjugation. religious injunctions (and interpretations) Islam (worldview theories. 26. 230. see. ritual specialists ‘carnivalesque’. 158n. see also. 170. 26. 190. ritual expenditure ceremony. 186. see. sacrifice. 9n. feminist critique of circumcision. 211–222. purity/impurity reproductive body. 80. matrilineality Bride of Qureysh. 166. see also. balance in humoral system. see also. 160. 130n. 243 pollution. ritual ceremonies (Ramadan. 194–222 Yazid. 46–47. Abu Bakr and Othman. see. 32–34. 169. 194–222 discipline. body (‘partibility’). gendering of body parts. 231–234 spiritual body (as channel for 287 barakat). see also. multiple trope intersecting with. see. 163. the Mahdi relation to gender and agency. virginity body. 173. see. reproduction. 133 blood. 140 Catholic Confirmation. female. see. 18. 83–89 self-affirming function. 99 breast milk. see. 186–195. see. 87–88 body/mind dichotomy. Qur"an (recitations). see also. 27. 188–189 . semen purity. see. dance calendars. 74n. 230–234 see also. 23–24. 184–193 metaphor for social distress. 140n Cinderella story. innovation. 212–213. 159. concept of. 27. 158. 162. 125. 231–241. 226–227. circumcision (male). gender (performance). 215. 218. 80n. disposition. modernity and politics. 10. 177 divine will and agency in a Spanish community. 230 Catholic First Holy Communion. 8. 176–178. 226–227. 195. 52. 156. 107–108. see also.subject index ‘belief ’ (religious convictions). menstruation. 21–22. 226n. see. 184–185 male. 107 diversity in practice. 200 Mu'aviya. 230 ritual weeping (collective). 247–248 religious healing and political economy. 'aql/nafs celebration of body and sexuality (in jashn-e 'Omar ritual). (in Sudan). see also. 26 ideology of patrilineal descent and relatedness. 162. 93. ritual ceremonies cabaret star. purity/impurity. 60. 230n gendering the ‘ungendered’ pre-pubescent body. 116n “Stations of the Cross”. reproduction sentient body (as active agent). ritual (reversal) ceremonial expenditure. 190–191. 226n embodiment (feminist theory of ). 189–191. 195. alms childbirth. fertility and regeneration. paternity Christianity (comparisons with). 229n. 10. breast milk. 215 Bosnia. 232n. martyrs’ and patrilineal blood. 81–82 performance theory. blood. body (‘partibility’. 46.

see. satiric performances dahegi. 245 dream analyses. 134–135 revolutionary slogans (class related). 207n commodity. street processions) dasteh-ye 'osara. 217–218 cabaret dancer. subversive aspects). 143. 7n. academic approaches. 4n. see. 110n. 111. street processions) daste-ye sham-e ghariban. matrilineality. female category defined as ‘low’. 200. 58–60. ‘symbolic capital’ dreams and interpretations. 132–133. 26. rowzeh) ‘distinction’. Fatemiyeh. 55. street processions) death rituals. in story of “harlot. and relation to ‘evil eye’ and inequality. 170. 219. as types of agency contingent on cultural assumptions. 94 ‘exoticism’. 92–114. 114n ‘contested power’. as rite of passage into puberty. 159n city space. 97–98. 134. 182 satiric performances (class related). sacrifice) 189n. dream of saints. street processions) dasteh-ye sineh zani. 8. tabaqeh-ye ejtema'i). 4. 72. 32n. 11n. 245–246 military recruitment. see also. 114. 48. women’s) dahe-ye fajr. coalitions across class and divisions within. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. envy embodiment. 93. 219–222 socio-economic factors (lifestyle. 24. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. ‘symbolic violence’ conspiracy theories. guidance. see. 165–167 reproduction of difference (‘moralizing distinction’). dahegi-ye Muharram. 61. see. 6–7. see. 188n Durrani Pashtuns. 4–5. 207. 134n. 79. 7n. 84. 218n. 204. 72. 92 expenditure. ritual ceremonies dance (tensions over. 4–5. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. 203. 60. see. 76. 17–18. 93n cross-dressing. 248 ethnography. 102. Muharram) descent. 92–93. 219. 182–183. 143 Clare Hall. 143–144. and relation to envy and inequality. 92. body eschatology. 53–56 dirges. (funerary. 116. 80–81. 89. 206. veiling. 71. 104. ritual specialists (cantors). 173.288 subject index dasteh-ye Bani Asad. 218. 59–60. 112n. 120. 132. aspect of personhood. ritual expenditure structural links (to marriage. see. see. ‘gift’/‘commodity’ complementarity. see. 80. see also. prestige. 11. see. 247–249. 206. 17. 111n . 112. 18. see. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. 66. 182–183 colour symbolism. 60n. 117–118. 77–78. seyyed (descent) devil.75. 108 wet dream. fieldwork envy. related ideas and imagery. as revealing truth. 110–113. city space). 48. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. 9. 175. 214 ethics. see. 44–47 intersection with gender. 98n. ritual expenditure. 211 dreams of deceased relatives making requests. see. 16–17. 7. justification for action. power relations. 4. 133. 208. 82–83. 109. hermit and devil in disguise”. 94n. 133. 121. gender (dualistic models) ‘compliance’/‘resistance’. 222. 16–18. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. 87n economic hardship and social disparities. and social inequalities. 3n. 79. 117. 84–85. 93n. 17. 112. ‘belief ’. 216. 174–176. see. xiii class (social class. 64. 166–167. 83. ritual ceremonies. 132n ‘evil eye’. patrilineality. 37. see also. 116. 8. ideologies. see. 94.

ritual ceremonies (Ramadan. 107. and anthropology. 243 infertility. 289 15–16. 130n. saints (concepts) food and food symbolism. 217n fasting. also Zahra. 214. 220. Goli. 203–204 Omid. Mrs. 27n method and assistance. 202–204. Zeynab (gender icons) feminism. 96n. 224. 100–101. 130. 44. 177. 92–114 Mariam. 115–138. ritual specialists femininity. see. see. 77. 68–91 Shamsi. 98. 98–102. ix–x. 197. 147–148. see also. 6n Islamic feminist journals. literacy (of fieldwork subjects) fitna (or guile). 120. votive dishes. 6. 124 Minu. constructed as female. 123. 116. x. multiply linked imagery). 156. 136 Roya. 157 mowludi poems and dirges. 55. see. 208 passion play centred on Fatemeh. 70–71. 4–9 ethnography as ‘partial truths’. 151–153 Sima. 87–88 Ramadan fast-breaking meals. Fatemeh. 53–54. 159. ritual ceremonies (mowludi. 16–17. 220n. 109. 25. 121 trope for gender identity. 203. Cinderella story ‘false consciousness’ model. barakat. 123–125. 223–241 Parvin. reproduction (concerns over. 214 ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ (humoral system). 156–158. 226–230 by children. 84. 148–149. Islam (modernity) fertility and regeneration. 152. 197. 128. 30–67. ritual ceremonies (‘Bride of Qureysh’) spiritual intercessor. 32n. blood. see also. 207. tropes and symbols as sources of agency. 146. 93. 59–63. 7 ‘Islamic feminism’. 157n Fatemiyeh. 15. 93 ‘fairy tales’ (feminist critique of ). 27. barakat. 199. 107. Fatemeh (fertility symbol). Forugh. 73–74n. 195n. feminism (feminist consciousness). 113. as social disorder. 177n. 27–29 fieldwork subjects. 126. 129–131. 6. 32. Yusuf and Zulaykha ‘Five Bodies’ ( panj tan). 4–7. 10. xiv. see also. 160. 126. Mrs. 192. 214. 101–102. Mrs. 50. 99. x “feminist consciousness”. 35 fees. 32. ritual ceremonies (Ramadan) Fatemeh. 210 ‘hand of Fatemeh’. hal. context (social and political). 15. (or ‘imagined communities’) formed around ritual activities. ritual expenditure female preachers. Mrs. 96n. 41. 144–147 Sabri. 227. 116n. ritual object and symbolism of. 192 gender icon. 181 Farrokhzad. 139. see also. 47. see. see also. 69 religious education and feminist activism. jashn) commemorations of Fatemeh’s death. 198. ix–xi. sofreh) comic food. religious injunctions. 149n.subject index Fadak. ritual ceremonies (Fatemiyeh) fertility symbol. 9. xiv. see also. see. celebration of Fatemeh’s birth. see also. 160–164. see. see. 186n . gender (performance) fieldwork. see. 115n. 26. 246 defined broadly. 204. 223. 129. votive dishes ‘fictive affinities’. 199. 6–7 religious/political activism by women. relatedness. see also. passim stories or Hadith. channel for barakat. 86. 121–122. xiii–xiv. 120. 129–130. 245. ritual ceremonies fatwa (religious decree). 207–210 structural anomaly in the patrilineal ideology. 195. 240 rationing. 141. 105.

138. see. 119–120. 215–216. ‘golden penis’. see. 248–249 personhood. 206. 137n gold. dreams. 15n. food (trope) recasting of gender images. 34n. 2–3. ritual objects (hejleh. 91. 10. 'aql/nafs (conservative discourses). 136. 70. 2. Fatemeh. satire class and gender. 174. 34. empowering women. 111n. production/ reproduction). saints (concepts) Friday congregational prayers. 95–96. 43. 236 dependency (mutual). 32. see. ‘fictive affinities’). dance. 214. 143. ‘female model’. 43n ‘habitus’. see. parallels in Islamic discourses and mixing in women’s rituals. 27. of jewellery. autonomy and professionalization of home space. 127. 51–52. 68. 139–168. irony. 150n space. as ‘honorary persons’). 50. 90–91. 8. 71. 11–14. 136. 58. see. 180. 167 of conservative Muslim scholars. 150. 190–191. 206. Zeynab (gender icons) gendering (of ungendered child). fieldwork subjects gossip. intention. nature/culture. 10–11 personhood (‘multiple person’). 246–247.290 subject index masculinity. 184. subversions. “l’écriture feminine”. 40. 219 hal. 247 . 111–112 instability. ritual ceremonies (reversal). 111. 22. class (intersection with gender) competition (within and between genders). 244 gheybat. 64–67. defined (following Marilyn Strathern). 134–138. creating unitary gender as a source of political agency through collective ritual performances (‘imagined communities’. jokes. see also. 10n. passim ‘performativity’ (following Judith Butler). 49–51. 57. see. state “guardianship (or government) of the jurist” (velayat-e faqih). 242–243 dualistic models. 23. 122. purity/impurity femininity. analytical category (following Marilyn Strathern). 10n. 218 Hadith. 16–17. academic model. 'aql/nafs (blurring). 9–10. 5. sex/gender. 151 government (attempts to control rituals). 138. 198. 104. 22n. as tropes for representing knowledge. 168. 26. 40n. Qur"an (exegesis) hajj. 15. 243. 143n. 186n. see. 128. see. namaz (congregational prayers) funerals. 210 sign of transition into womanhood. 205. 115–116. see also. 247. 14n. 175. 25. see. see also. 178. 14–16. 144–146. saints (concepts) gharb-zadegi. ‘authenticity’. 115. hermaphrodites (treatment of ) in Islam identification. transformative effect of. anecdotes. 113. and “west-toxication” discourse gender. 232n. 26. 62 status. sign of corruption. identity formation and political contingency. 69. gold picture frames. 242 category blurring (ambiguities. 21–22. ritual ceremonies (funerary) ‘gateway to favours’ (bab-ol-hava"ej ). 10. 118. 189. 192 Goli. 134–137. defined as sin. aspects of see. saints (as extensions of self ). 93. 9–14. 41. see also. 233n “Fourteen-Most-Pure” (Chahardah Ma'sum). 232–233. 178n. body (‘partibility’). see. see. 47. 180n. gossip ‘gift’/‘commodity’. 49–50n. 188–190 performance. 99. 185. pilgrimage hajji Firuz (New Year jester). transgressions). 93. 184–191. 109. of academic scholarship. 67. (assumed antagonism. 94–96.

169–193 khatm-e amman yujibu. 88–89 hejab. 135. (or ‘fictive affinities’) formed around ritual activities. 227. 143 do'a darmani. 198. 133. 220–222. 105. concepts and gendered aspects. 52. 105. gender (space). 71. 119. 44 ‘Hidden’ Twelfth Imam. 228. 239 'Ali’s controversial sermon. 136. 149 “techno-'ashura” or “Hosseyn party”. 50n mowludi poem in praise of 'Ali. 226. eschatology. 93. 50. 68–91 initiation ( jashn-e 'ebadat). 12n hermit. 138. 291 94n. hermit and devil in disguise”. votive dishes ‘hand of Fatemeh’. state (attempts to control rituals) intention (niyyat). hermit and devil in disguise”. ‘belief ’ (diversity). religious merit (gifts for deceased). as disciplinary production of gender (following Judith Butler). bed'at (‘un-Islamic novelty’) and khorafat (‘superstition’). 146n Imam ‘Ali. 195. 195–197. 140–168. as discourses biased against women. see. 80–81. 40. saints (concepts). 9. 164–165 strategic uses (aspect of political action). ‘Karbala paradigm’ Imam Reza (eighth Imam). see. gender (space) hospitality. 235. 77. 115. 161. 48. 154. 11 hey"at. see. see. see also. 129–130. 80n ‘imagined communities’. see. salavat. the Imam Husseyn. the ‘high’/‘low’. ethical conduct) determining outcome of acts. story of “harlot. 46. meanings and judgements. 39. 19. religious injunctions (and interpretations).subject index halva. 131. see also. purity/impurity initiation ritual. 138n. jokes ‘honour’/‘shame’. 120. jokes. see. gender (performance) Imams. visiting and hospitality Hosseyniyeh. 95. 50. sin hermaphrodites. 205. 217 identity politics (representations of ‘self ’/‘other’). 214. criticised). 248 of deceased expressed in dreams. see also. ‘invention of tradition’. 225. see also. ritual objects Hell. 12. see also. Fatemeh harlot. 210. 231–232n. 53–56 heterosexuality. 70. 125. (men’s associations). 107 Hazrat-e 'Abbas ('Abol Fazl). 86 ta'ziyeh-ye kharabi-ye sham. 37–38. 72–80 healthcare provisions. 13n. Islam (worldview theories. see. 22–23. 244 new post-revolutionary rituals. mosque humoral reasoning. 46. 80. saints (female) Hazrat-e Sekineh. Mahdi. 25. story of “harlot. see also. 54 ‘illness as metaphor’. 135. 221 illicit sex (zena). treatment of in Islam. saints (female) impurity. Mahdi. 25. see. 148–149. 50n. 133n. 163. see. piety (defined empirically). 69. 152. see also. 7–8 dahe-ye fajr. 82 Musa-ibn-e Ja"far (seventh Imam). religious associations and circles hezbollahi (‘Party of God’). dreams of deceased represented in ritual . see. see. aspect of agency and personhood (responsibility. 'Ali Asghar. 42n home space. see. 116n. passim. 17. 150. 231–232. will. ritual ceremonies (initiation) innovation. saints (female) healing and well-being. veiling hejleh (nuptial chamber). 148n ‘wedding for a martyr’. see. desire. 182–184. 73n. 87. satire. 95. 53–56 Hazrat-e Roqiyeh. 213. 99. see. 14. 26. see. 81–89. 228. 87n humour. 16–17. 175 Imam-e Ghayeb (‘Hidden’ Imam). 77. 189. mixing and subversions. 104. ritual ceremonies (reversal) hojjatiyeh. 59–60. 120–124. 160. 152–153 healing ritual. 72. 188. 94.

43. 140. causes. leader of the Islamic Republic. 220–221. the Mahdi (modernity) Shi'a precepts and doctrine. 183. 211n justice/injustice. 140–141. see. 72. see. 64–66. 244 ‘Islamic jokes’. 205. 143. 27. licit transgressions unsettling categories. see. ritual ceremonies Khomeini. 39 objects. innovation (new rituals. 28. 72. 44n. 17. trope for representation). post revolutionary). see. 53. 143. 43–44. 45. food. breast milk. 34. 182–184. 18n. 27n. 142–143. 57. 60n. 44. 107. Mafatih-al-Janan Khameneh"i. 59. 183n. Wendy. 19–21n ‘Keys to Paradise’ book of prayers and supplications. anecdotes. 21. ‘invention of tradition’. 19–21. see. 106. see. see also. 31–32n. 162. Imam Husseyn. 66. Mr. gender (personhood) interior displays (for ritual venues). 59n revolutionary slogans chanted in rituals. Barbie dolls. 189 world view theories (criticism of ). 5. 221 maxim of ‘social justice’ ('edalat-e ejtema'i ). ritual ceremonies (reversal) jashn-e mas'uliyat. innovation kinship notions. ritual ceremonies (reversal). Ayatollah. 60. 89. 166. 210 Qur"an inscriptions and calligraphy. 12n. ritual ceremonies (initiation) jester. irony. ix. 58. 94. 19–20. 159. 18–19. ritual ceremonies (reversal). 44n. 215. 18n ‘discursive tradition’. 244 kachi. semen (as tropes of relatedness) knowledge. ithna 'ashariya). 161. ritual specialists ‘invention of tradition’. jokes modernity. see. 46. ‘compliance’/‘resistance’. 85. 59n. feminism Islam (Twelver Shi'ism. anthropological (as ‘partial truths’. 221. told during jalaseh. see also. 58 and authority in interaction. see. 104–106 votive emblems and relics. ritual ceremonies . dance. 65. 5. 72. 58. 65n. see also. 43n ‘anthropology of Islam’ and ‘Islamic anthropology’. 46 metaphors structuring knowledge. 228. 214 portraits of political leaders. state (control of rituals). see. satire Islamic feminism. 5. see. 161n. 72. 140n. 19 ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. 17n. 154 official and performative. 47. 72. see also. 210 khorafat (superstition). 72. see. 220 associations with (divine inspiration. 37. 196. political uses) irony. 215. hajji-Firuz jokes. 187. wild rue intermediaries with supernatural agencies. see. ritual ceremonies khatm-e amman yujibu. 94 sacred cloth (product of instruction given in a dream). 44n jalaseh. 75 kharji (religious expenditure). x. see also. 36. (religious meeting). 156–157. 175. see. feminism (religious/political activism). 9. 'aql). 237 esoteric and exoteric. 32n. anecdotes. 31–32. Islam (modernity) Iranian revolution. blood. ritual ceremonies (initiation) jashn-e taklif. see. 44. 157 jashn-e 'ebadat. 59n. ritual ceremonies (initiation) jashn-e 'Omar. 47–48 and power (following Foucault).163. memory positive valuation of. 182. see also. see also. see also. 111. ritual expenditure khatm-e "an'am. light. 79. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. 211. ‘Karbala paradigm’. authenticity. see.292 subject index James. 6n. agency. votive dishes Karbala narratives. 130n. comic displays. see also. jokes. ritual ceremonies (Muharram) ‘Karbala paradigm’. satire ‘joking relationships’. see. 101.

187n. 140–168. 179 men’s dependency on women (feeding. obligatory hajj to. 224. veiling majles-e do'a darmani. 85. 39. Ayatollah. 33. see also. 34. male circumcision (likened to marriage). 87. 26. 104. see also. 47. 241 relevance for calendar. 43. 42n political aspects and modernity. see also. 52n memory (official and performative). 31. see also. saints (female) “l’écriture feminine”. 104 Mariam. 18. see. knowledge . cause of envy. 105–107. 188 Lady Houri and Lady Light (Bibi Hur and Bibi Nur). 35. of fieldwork subjects). 128n temporary marriage (sexual. vow making). see. 127. 125. politicised terminology. ‘sources of emulation’ marriage. 113–114. 44. 39n. 185n. 74 popularity of Ka'beh for posters and model for cakes. 78. 246 marriage theories (academic). 57n. 187n. gender (dualistic models) liminality. 102 mahramiyat (gender avoidance rules). 220. 88n medicalization. 197.subject index practical. 127. 192–193. 193n reckonings for seyyed. ritual ceremonies (prayer-healing) Mar'ashi. the Mafatih-al-Janan (‘Keys to Paradise’) prayer book. 26. 128. 204 metaphor upholding moral framework. 44. 70. 77. see also. see. 193n marriageability. sex. non-sexual. 193n. Mahdi. 185–186. 159–160. 154. see. fieldwork subjects marja'-e taqlid. initiated by women and their stake in. 43n slogans and prayers. pilgrimage medical anthropology. see also. 113–114. 111. see. 94. see. 187n. 185. 128 social reproduction. 193. 99 millennial resurgence and political instability. fieldwork subjects ‘Lord of the Ages’ (saheb-e zaman). 58. 33n orientation for salat. 119. 134. 147. virginity spheres of power (women’s) within negotiating autonomy and obedience (tamkin). 65. 39. 36. 194. 205. exchanges. 186–187. paternity. 122n. see also. 193. 35. prestige. 127–128. 174. 293 186n. ritual ceremonies (funerary. 42. 255 prestige of hajj. 146. see. 180–181. 103. 245 dream accounts. 42–44. ritual theories (rite of passage) literacy (level. 88. 88 Medina. 94 mellat (nation). see. 63. as metaphor. wedding martyrs. xvi structural links of hajj rituals to Muharram rituals. 104 matrilineality. 48. 216n. 39n. 176 Qur"an chapters revealed in. 121–122. 191. see. see also. 32. 159. 62–64. 159–160. reproduction. see. satiric performances. 5 shifting discourses of just leadership. 110. 38. 39. 48 shared. mahramiyat. 240 Mahdi. gender Mashhad. creative usage). for ‘war martyrs’) masculinity. 241. 90–91 wages for housework (ujra-t-ol-mithl). passim. 39. seyyed through breast milk and ‘milk-mothering’. 95–96. the key tenet in Iranian Shi'ism. 52. social disparity. 4. civil society claims of justice. motherhood. 114n. patrilineality Mecca. 186–187. 91 polygamy and marital injustice (challenges by women).

24 modernity. Ayatollah. 84 rules and practical concerns. 225. prayer-leader ( pish-namaz). 228 parti-bazi (lobbying). 57. 117n. 79. 40. 69. Imams nafs. 232n in the religious injunctions. 'aql/nafs men’s religious associations (hey'at). 108 ideal in girl’s initiation ritual. ritual prayer). language of and politics of reproduction. 52–53. Caliphs . 165. 38. 184 jokes (ambiguity of rules. as act of worship (approaching God). reproduction mowludi. 93. 146 mosque. Fatemeh as icon of. lust). see. 52. 106. 40–41. 50n. see. see also. 154. body (‘partibility’). 23. ritual ceremonies (mowludi. 35. 246 satiric performances. body (symbolism). 93. 52–56. 40. 225–226. ritual objects ‘nurses’ day’. 189. 164–165. fieldwork subjects passion play (ta'ziyeh). 50n namaz (salat. 156.178. 34. 56 Montazeri. see. 99. 96n. Hosseyniyeh motherhood. 15. Mrs. 247. 158. 57 moralised discourses (gendered). Islam (modernity) modesty. see. 231n. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. 225. 60n. gender (personhood) Parvin. 90. 150. 22. 107. fieldwork subjects ‘misrecognition’. see also. 183. 147. including for initiation. 36. 158. jashn. association with men and politics. 110. 202 in relation to modernity. 69 male. 96. 188 women’s use of. 231. 143 millennialism. 152. 186–189. 103. 118. see. 191–193. 70. 188n. see. 177. ritual ceremonies (Muharram) ‘multiple person’. 128. poems). 178. see. see. religious hypocrisy). 49. see. 165n. 96. see. 207. see. Mrs. 210 for religious work. see.173. vow making (votive offering) Omid. 191 positive valuation by women. ritual specialists (cantors) Mu'aviya. see. 77. 50–51. 180. 36. passion plays) passion or lust. 70n. 210. interpretations of. 36n. 71. 96n. see. 4. 116–117 Musa-ibn-e Ja‘far (seventh Imam). 229 linked to concepts of relatedness and reproduction. Mahdi. gender (space). 228. 247 molla Nasreddin. 238–241 as discipline (body and mind). body. 239–240 rules for women. 117. fieldwork subjects Ommol Bani. blood military recruitment. 165n official discourses. 179 offerings (for vow making) (nazri ). 137. 28. 216n ‘mother of martyrs’. association with impurity. gender (personhood) ‘multivocal symbol’.181–182. 181–182 as means to an end. 70 obedience injunction (tamkin). breast milk Minu. 227. vow making niyyat. see. 35. 216. 151. 96n. see. 96. 'aql/nafs Nahj-ol-Balaqeh (Imam 'Ali’s book of sermons). 36. see. 91n. see. the milk. see also. female. female saints Paradise. religious associations and circles menstruation (menstrual blood) and symbolic construction of. see. 76. 178 congregational prayer (namaz jama'at). 90–91. 50n.294 subject index Muharram rituals. 48. (passion. 33–37. prayers and supplications nazr. 191. 156. 125. 121 ‘partibility’. intention nuptial memorial object (hejleh). see also. 52–53. see. see.196.

169. 243 ‘reversals’ of the structural ‘high’. 154. 233 do'a-ye gheybat (‘occultation prayer’). 55. 113. 78–79. Islamic feminism. 118. 90–91. reproduction pollution. 136. 48–49. patrilineality patrilineality. 226. defined. Mafatih-al-Janan. 122 do'a-ye yastashir (in praise of God). and impiety. 136. 66 official discourses. see also. ritual ceremonies (Muharram. 31–32. 8–9n. 133. political economy. Iranian revolution (religious activism). virginity patriarchy. 167 structural links. 57n politics of. 123–125 practices regarding. 243 metaphor in girl’s initiation ritual. salavat prayer tablet (mohr). 119. 178. 167 key metaphor (for regeneration. 133 Meccan hajj. 155n. see. semen. 134n. 225n preachers. 170. 194 personal. 172. dance personhood. see also. 131 popcorn. gender (performance). 26. see also. 7. empirically. 65. 193. paternity. 68. and class distinction. 130–131 structural link to sacrifice and virginity. 74. distinguished from patriarchy. 57n. 147. and political authority. 147. ‘symbolic capital’. 225. 1. 111 prayers and supplications. see. see also. 223. 180. gender (performance) piety (taqwa). 97. see also. see. 94 social disparity caused by. 219–220 production/reproduction. 145. 90–91. of illness. narratives of creation. 63 do'a darmani (prayer healing). 46–48. 15. 243 unitary gender as a source of political agency. Mecca politics defined. 84. 229 outward manifestations. 57–59. see. see also. namaz (salat). 174 pilgrimage. 93. 116n. parallels with 295 Muharram rituals. 32. see. 186n. 72–73. 95–96. reproduction . 131–134 of reproduction.subject index paternity. 152–153. 118. marriage ‘polythetic category’. patriarchy Persian dance. 123–125. see. agency (sources). 33. ritual theories (performance theory). 8. 134–138. 8. 71–80 joshan-e kabir. 74. 159n. gender (personhood) performance. ritual specialists prestige. 88–89 of vow making. 249 pious hypocrisy. 65–66. 34. see. 139–168. 96n. political use). 146. 99. patrilineality. the. 36n. concluding jalaseh. sermon (political nature) political economy. 135. see also. 32. 41 derived through ritual activity. 85 ziyarat nameh (shrine visit greetings). see also. piety (politics of ). 65n. 166. 67. food (comic) postmodern subject. 191 reckoning of seyyed descent and ambivalence over this. 5. 33. 40. 159–160. 63–64 do'a-ye tavvasol (intercessionary supplication). 66n prayer leader ( pish namaz). also ‘distinction’. 159n. 186–187. see. 241 protective supplications. 34. 153. 50. 125. taboo polygamy. matrilineality. condemnation in religious discourse. 82. 82. 18. 16. see. Mahdi. 136. popular shrines. seyyed reckoning of a child’s identity and marriageability. 38–39. 54–57. 133. as votive channels. political authority) in men’s death rituals. purity/impurity. 237 relics and shrine dust. 220.

see. Mr. alms (kheyrat). diverse uses. 16. 41. 158. 85 “Bride of Qureysh” ('arus-e Qureysh). 94 recitations and somatising barakat. 142n. see. 187. 136. fasting. 19–21. 105. 32n. 144. 66. production/reproduction. 83–87. 92. 184–186. 234–241. 32. 33n. 191–193. rationality. 191. 102. 213n. 37n. 237. 106. 162–163. fertility and regeneration religious associations and circles. vow making . 110. 75 Ramadan. 149. 28. 213. see. see. 63. see also. 140–144. 104. 215 reappraisal of dichotomies. see also. 122. body (spiritual. see also. 84. 224. 15. namaz (rules) religious/spiritual merit (savab). 207–210 circumcision (male) (khatneh). 32. see. 95 religious healing. 72. 120 regeneration tropes. 46. ahya. 90. 234–241 exegesis (tafsir). ritual ablutions Qara"ati. 168. 165n. mock wedding. 89–91. 243 decoupling from female sexuality in Islamic discourses. Mr. 31. concerns over.. 109 pulpit. jokes. 98. (biological. 57. ritual ceremonies (reversal. 139. 31n. 54. 55. 175. marriage (marriageability). 104. 32. see. 139. symbolism). ‘compliance’/‘resistance’ reversal ritual. 37. see. ix. 54. 72. 159n resistance. see. see. 104 Qur"an. salavat religious taxes (khoms. 45–62 gender balance. 6. 37n. 28. 60–61. 208. see also. political economy (of illness) religious hypocrisy. 226–230. jashn-e 'Omar) rite of passage theory. 236n inscriptions and calligraphy. 216n in women’s rituals.296 subject index (injunctions). 234 prostitute. ritual ablutions. 112 reproduction. 40n. 85. ritual ceremonies reason. 26. 60n. 232n. 43–44 religious education. 40. 216. 204–205. ritual theories ritual ablutions. 63. 40. body (spiritual. 39n. 206 women’s jalaseh circles. variations. 39 religious endowment (vaqf ). 147. 147. religious taxes. 34. 42. 38. ritual ceremonies (Ramadan) Qureysh (a Meccan clan). 45n. 165. 227. 6. 151. symbolism). 224 symbolic sealing or opening of body. 31–39. 189–190. 190n. 135 reward (ajr) for piety. 96. 37. 106 purity/impurity. sexuality/reproduction in feminist scholarship. 247 eclipsed by men. circumcision dahe-ye fajr (‘dawning of a new age’). men’s associations (hey"at). purity/impurity. 109 repentance (towbeh). 241. cultural concepts of. 78. obedience. mahramiyat. Ramadan 'aqiqeh. see also. 104. 130. 85–86. 151–154. 143 Prophet Muhammad. 74. 36n. 45. 186–191 multiply linked imagery (biological and social). 51. and interpretations in jalaseh. zakat). legitimizing authoritative commentaries. 48. 40n. in single-sex rituals. 54 divination (istikhareh). Ramadan (The night of Qadr) a'mal-e umm-e-Davud. see. piety (pious hypocricy) religious injunctions (ahkam-e din). 104 Qom. 134. 26. gifts for the deceased (with salavat). 'aql/nafs Red Crescent (helal-e 'ahmar). 130. see. 136–137. ritual ceremonies (‘Bride of Qureysh’) Rafsanjani. 224–226. menstruation. 232. 207n. social). 46. 39. 210. 19–21n. overview of literature. 70–71. 33n. 14. 108 efficacy (performative). 141–142n ritual ceremonies. 141–142. religious injunctions ritual ceremonies. 36. see also.

(or ahya. 71. 213 passion plays (ta'ziyeh). 194–222 sofreh (votive meal). 234–238 “The Night of Qadr” ceremony. religious merit (gifts for deceased).subject index dasteh-ye sineh zani. 141–143. 137. ritual ceremonies (literature overview) political uses for Iranian revolution. 101–102. 30–67 jokes about Muharram in jalaseh. for Muharram rituals. calendars ritual expenditure. 105. for 'jashn-e 'Omar. 57. 195n. state ritual cycles. 165n hejleh (nuptial memorial object for deceased men. 124n ritual innovations (post-revolutionary). 223–224. 107n effigies. 175. 25. 147. 169–193 jalaseh. see. see. 142n. 124. see. 84. jashn-e mas'uliyat) 18. 97–102. 148 dasteh-ye Bani Asad. 100–101. 157 funerary rituals common practices. 146. 108. Muharram. see. 63. funerary rituals street processions. 26. 119. 41. 148n dasteh-ye 'osara. 97. 122. 130–131. zikr-e mosibat). ta'ziye-ye kharabi-ye Sham. 148 prayer-healing (majles-e do'a darmani ). 42. 85. 43. see. see also. battle standard ('alam). 147. see also. prayer-healing Fatemiyeh (or dahegi-ye Fatemiyeh). 27. see. 148. 194n. 226–228 jashn-e 'Omar. 104. 214 mowludi cantors. 188–189. 115n zikr. types (nowheh. 164–165. 20. of dirges). rowzeh. 107. 156. 228. 26. 149–150 ta'ziyeh-ye Qasem. ritual specialists Muharram rituals dahegi-ye Muharram. 147. 129–130. 135. see. 163–164. 204–205 mowludi poems. Ramadan mowludi ( jashn). 63. 228n reversal ritual ( jashn-e 'Omar). ritual theories (of funerary practices) initiation ( jashn-e 'ebadat. 150–154 dirges chanted. 19–20. 140–168 structural parallels to. 118. 74. 63. vigil). 68–69. 85–86. 70. 238–241 Ramadan joke. 205–206. 19. “Bride of Qureysh” ('arus-e Qureysh) rowzeh. 160n. 71. women’s. Muharram rituals (street processions) dirges. for Muharram processions. 154 reversal rituals. dasteh-ye sineh zani. 208. see. 81. 97. 26. khatm-e amman yujibu ritual control (by state). 164 for ‘war martyrs’ (celebration as ‘wedding’). 200–203. 93. imagery of ) 160–164. Fatemiyeh. Abraham’s sacrificial model. 186. see. 144–149 daste-ye sham-e ghariban. 86 khatm-e "an'am. 189n 297 Meccan (hajj ) sacrifice of sheep. 30–67. innovation ritual objects. 153 exchange rates. 145. 68–91 Ramadan. 25. 97. Muharram rituals (rowzeh) do'a darmani. see also. reversal ritual khatm-e amman yujibu. 41. 159n. 119. jashn-e taklif. 19. 136. 26. 97. dirge ceremonies. 137. 166. ritual specialists (cantors. 205 . 165. 223–241 a'mal-e umm-e-Davud (“The Deeds of David’s Mother”) khatm-e Qur"an. see also. 69n. 76. 145. see. 228 focus in academic literature. 160. rowzeh. 145–146 cradle. 151. 74n fees for ritual specialists. 86. 224 khatm-e Qur"an. 154–155 circumcision (male). 115–138. 133. 131n. 97. 166 rites of masculinity.

ritual terminology rose-water ( golab). 1n generic designations for ritual ceremonies (locally). 101. 188n single-sex rituals as ‘imagined communities’ or ‘fictive affinities’. 159n. 119. (concepts). 245–246 mothers of martyr’s as icons of. see also. see. 154–156. 20–21. see. ‘gift’/‘commodity’. 131n. 72. 131 trope of Imam Husseyn’s blood in relation to ideologies of patrilineal descent. of dirges (rowzeh khan) and poems of praise (mowludi khan). 104–106 ‘gateway to favours’ (bab-ol-hava"ej ). 118. personal spiritual intercessors. 72. 3n. 45. 176. 117 saints as extensions of self. 22–24. 121. Fatemeh Hazrat-e Roqiyeh. ritual ceremonies (Muharram). 26. 166. saffron. 107. 146. 15. 8 funerary practices. see also. 136. 16–17 terminologies (anthropological and local). 131n 'aqiqeh ritual sacrifice of sheep. anthropological debates. 154 men’s Muharram performances. 237. 189n Meccan (hajj) sacrifice of sheep. see. fluidity of boundaries. votive dishes saints. (female). ‘multivocal symbol’. 188–189. 170–171. 8. 159–160. 94n. cantors. ahl-e beyt (‘those of the House’) or. 86n. 178. 94. 244–245 performance theory. 22–24. fieldwork subjects sacred cloth. 14. 154–155 circumcision blood (male). 20. 119. 110n. 85 Imam Husseyn’s martyrdom in Shi'a doctrine. 21n. 153 structural parallels to. 68n. 101. 119–123 Fatemeh. 124 ‘hand of Fatemeh’. 170–171. 1. blood symbolism. 161n votive emblems and relics. for Muharram processions. ritual theories ritual theories. 186. ritual uses and symbolism. 97–102 male preachers. 121–122. 150–153. 176–179. 131. 143. ritual specialists (cantors) Roya. rose-water. Imams. paternity. 180. 121. 207–210 female preachers. 19. 3–4. 138. 129. 129. martyrdom saffron. 145. 139–140 initiation (criticism of socialisation model). 146.298 subject index sacrifice. 210–213 ‘rite of passage’. 140–141. ‘polythetic category’. 6. (dreams of saints). in semblance of sacrifice. as a sacrificial rite. see. anthropological theories and as polythetic category. 153–154 as rites of masculine virtue of working class men. the Prophet’s household. 146. 127. 94. fieldwork subjects Sabri. 110. 212 ‘reversal ritual’ (theories). 23n. 180. see also. 86. 145–147. 123. 128 ritual. 157 hejleh (nuptial memorial object for deceased men). 22–24n. 68. 97. 104. 93. 118. 155–156n. see. Abraham’s sacrificial model. 25. interior displays ritual specialists. panj tan (‘Five Bodies’). see also. 185. 123. see. 130–131. Bi Bi Hur/BiBi Nur. 144. virginity.123. 160–164. 248. see also. 92. see. as ‘honorary persons’. votive dishes rowzeh (dirge). 140. Mrs. 142 women as votive intermediaries with supernatural agencies. supernatural agency saints. 124. 186. 94n. 165. 190n overviews. terminology. 56–5. ritual uses and symbolism. interior displays . 195 “Fourteen-Most-Pure” (Chahardah Ma'sum). 31–48. saints (female). 165n sofreh.

31–32. 93. 44. 186. prayers ‘symbolic capital’. 113. 134. 50–51. ritual ceremonies (Muharram) subject positions. 52. innovation supplications (do'a). sexuality. see. Zeynab. 66. 63. 172. 136. 50 ‘spheres of exchange’. 206 satire (satiric performances). 125n Ommol Bani. 'arus-e Qureysh). 33n. agency. 55. see. xiii semen. 155n. 51n politics of. 96. Imams salat. 99. (male). 122. 34. 99. 204. ‘value regimes’ spirituality (ma'refat). marriage. 244. ‘compliance’/‘resistance’ . 205–206. namaz salavat. see. 10n. see. 152. see also. 228 299 propitiousness of bilateral seyyed. anecdotes. 190–191 purity rules of in relation to menstrual blood. prestige symbolic violence. saints concepts (saint as extension of self ) superstition (khorafat). 215–222. sexuality. see. 82–86. 31–32n. 10. evil eye ‘fate’. 66–67. 106. religious merit spiritual work. gender specific morality. 42. 132n. 83–84. see. 60n. associations (esoteric knowledge. 152. 71. Imam Ali’s controversial sermon. 11n. 125.subject index Hazrat-e Sekineh. 96n. 52. 6. 104. ritual ceremonies ‘sources of emulation’ (marja'-e taqlid ). 60. 7–8. 125. body (‘partibility’) sermon (khotbeh). 134n. 109 special privileges regarding religious taxes. see also. saints (concepts) saints. 44. 109. ritual theories (initiation) sofreh (votive meals). see also. see also. see. 149. irony. 187n. 58. Christianity street processions (dasteh). 207 Shamsi. 69. colour symbolism. 98. l04. see. status. 19. 195–197. 100. 101–103. mosque sex. 21n. 76. 37. 129. 128. 215–218. 181–182. 56–57. barakat. 187. see. 109. see. 46 self refinement (tazkiyeh-ye ruh). ritual formula. see also. 216–218 comic food. satire supernatural agency. see. see. 214. 244 Stations of the Cross. as multiple power centre. 219. 216n. 53. gender. 89 subversion. 202. purity). 71 state (government). 220. 96n. 158 prestige. monogenetic theory. jokes savab. 142. ritual ceremonies (reversal) School of Oriental and African Studies. 112n. 53n attempts to control rituals. 69. 92. 196. see. 207–210 unsettling categories of class. 41n gifts for the deceased. 39. ajr). see. 57. 109 treatment in passion plays. 96. 48 spiritual reward (savab. 235 social reproduction. see also. 199. light. 124 Zeynab. see also. 206. see also. see also. production/reproduction socialization. 41–42. 98. religious merit scatology (theme in reversal rituals). 94n. 41. 75–76. see also. also cross-dressing. dreams (of saints). 93n subjectification. 20. 169–170. 202–203. 53. 135 strategic uses. satiric performances seyyed (the Prophet’s descendants). a mock wedding (‘Bride of Qureysh’. see. 36. 109 descent reckoning (and ambivalence over matrilineal seyyed ). 219 relating to gender. jokes. ‘divine will. fieldwork subjects sin (gonah). 103–104. 117–118 ‘evil eye’. 47. 202 women’s criticism of sermons. 159n. 190 metaphor for (patrilineal) identity and transition to manhood.

187 female military recruitment. 152 song about veiling. 34n taqwa. 99. 132n. 94 Woman’s Day. 153 votive dishes. positive associations and encouragement in rituals. or morality police (female) called “Zeynab’s sisters”. see. modesty velayat-e faqih. 70–71. 32. 60–61. symbolism of. 203. see. 172. 189. 135–136. 126. 102. see. see. fitna. 22n. 60. 134. 131–134. 54. 86. passion play. ritual ceremonies (sofreh). 124. 179 vigil. 58. 110 west-toxication (gharb-zadegi ). 68–90 passim. 118. 135. Qur"anic story interpreted. 77. marriage terms of address and reference (cross-sex). rose-water. 103. votive dishes (symbolism of ) . 60n. 104. 138n. 142. 93. paternity visiting and hospitality. 103n. morality police (vice squads). sacrifice. 129. “guardianship (or government) of the jurist” vice squads. 131. 178–179 video (use for rituals). 68. see also. interior displays Wadud. 134n veiling (hejab). see.300 subject index votive emblems and relics. 15. 4. 107. 159–160. see also. 94. 146. 104–106. 115–138. see. 132n votive intermediaries with supernatural agencies. authenticity wet dream. Islam vaqf. criticism of ) Yusuf and Zulaykha. 84. 69n. 165n. 160–164 mock wedding ritual. ritual ceremonies (sofreh) vow making (nazr kardan). 134. 75. see. 86n Zulaykha. see also. gender icon (multiple. 61n. 182. 35 transformation. 68–70 association with miraculous cures. 72. 85n. see. 68n. 57. 70 Zeynabiyeh. 86. weeping temporary marriage. hejleh (nuptial memorial object for deceased men). 149. 148n. 18. 207–210 ‘wedding for a martyr’ (funerary ritual). marriage weeping. see. ritual ceremonies (passion plays) tears. 115. 96n wages for housework (ujrat-al-mithl). 120. 164–165. piety ta'ziyeh. 68 zikr. 121. 58n. “Bride of Qureysh”. 89 ‘Tobacco Protest’. saffron. see also. 101 world view. 95. 152. 85. see. 76. 91 war. 234. 60n. dreams wild rue (esfand). see also. 57n. 41. see. 168 zar (in Sudan). see. 69 wedding. feminist magazine). see also. 243n Zeynab. see also. 105 theodicy. comparison with. 216. 79. 70. Iran/Iraq. Yusuf and Zulaykha taboo. 215 management of cross-sex relations. 233–234 well (in the ground). 198. 15. 150. see. 118. magazine). ‘gift’/‘commodity’. 69. politicised usage. 71. 239 virginity.15. Amina. 99. shifting images). 145. 149–150 Zeynab’s sisters. to ward off evil. Qur"an (exegesis) Zanan (“Women”. 55. religious endowment ‘value regimes’. regeneration. associated with the Mahdi. (ahya). social meaning of. 6 Zan-e Ruz (“Woman of the Day”. 68–69. hal. Islam (world view theories. 109. ritual specialists votive offerings (nazri ). rite of passage Twelver Shi'ism (ithna 'ashariya). 58–60. 209 passim political economy of vow making injunctions. 39 moralised. as a rite of passage into puberty. 63.

J. 2003. 2005. 2003. Torab. ISBN-13: 978 90 04 15295 3 . ISBN 90 04 12853 0 2. T. ISBN-10: 90 04 15295 4. F. Muslim Women in the United Kingdom and Beyond: Experiences and Images. Women. Gender and Language in Morocco. 2006. and Benn. Jawad. H. ISBN 90 04 14634 2 4. ISBN 90 04 12581 7 3. Sadiqi. Gender and Ritual in Iran. Dreaming of Change: Young Middle-Class Women and Social Transformation in Jordan. Droeber. A. Performing Islam.WOMEN AND GENDER THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE ISLAMIC WORLD ISSN 1570-7628 1.

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